Greater transparency and openness about animal research is being welcomed by the University of Manchester, who have signed a declaration agreement.
Numerous research organisations and 15 UK universities endorsed the ‘Declaration on Openness on Animal Research’ amid news that public support for research involving animals had fallen.
The announcement was made at a conference held by the Science Media Centre and not for profit company Understanding Animal Research, where representatives from the research sector discussed the public attitude to animal research.
The participating organisations have agreed to ‘work together to establish a Concordat that will develop principles of openness, practical steps and measurable objectives which will underpin a more transparent approach to animal research’.
Stephen Whitehead, of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, said: “A community which is not open is viewed as one with something to hide, and it is now important that the scientific community comes together to be more open about its use of animals in research.”
All of the organisations involved in the project state that they use alternatives to animal research wherever possible, such as cells grown in a lab, computer models and human volunteers.
A statement on animal research published by the University of Manchester explains that the University is actively involved in the search for new technologies to reduce the number of animals used in its medical research.
The university is already open with its use of animals in research, and lists on its website whether particular studies involve them, but the new declaration takes this openness further by officially promising to ‘continue to develop open dialogue between the research community and the public’.
The declaration was announced after the latest annual MORI poll on the subject showed a drop in public support for animal research.
The survey results revealed that both conditional and unconditional acceptance of animal research had fallen, along with an increase in outright objection to it, and a fall in public trust in the regulations surrounding this research.
Dr Penny Hawkins, a senior scientist at the RSPCA, said: “These results reflect a deep public concern about animals who suffer in the name of science. If the scientific community really wants to address these concerns, it will have to be more honest about the harms caused to animals – which can be very severe – and not just talk about the potential benefits of research.”
Though the declaration appears to be a step in the right direction for the welfare of animals, one third of the people questioned by MORI strictly oppose the use of animals in research, even if organisations openly discuss it.
Ashleigh Neal, 20, a student from Manchester explained: “When I was looking at universities and found out Manchester University took part in animal testing it seriously put me off applying, because I didn’t like the idea that the fees may be going towards something like that.”
Vegan activist Lucy Mellor, 23, said: “This is greenwashing and just another way for them to look good in the media. It does not carry any real meaning beyond this.”
Despite the obvious signs that much of the public is no longer in favour of animal testing, it is still a UK requirement for new medical treatments.
The new technologies being uncovered by the University of Manchester may however mean that a completely animal-free research sector could be closer than previously thought.