Much more progress needed to improve openness on animal research, says EARA website study

A study by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), of more than a 1,000 websites across Europe, assessing how the biomedical sector talks about research using animals, has found that ‘the sector is still some way from an acceptable level of openness and transparency in animal research’.

The findings from the EARA Study of EU-based websites 2018 have now been presented to the EU Commission, which is currently examining the findings.

A total of 1,219 institutional websites within the EU were assessed, both public and private bodies, including universities and pharmaceutical companies, during 2018 and a rating system was developed to analyse the data which found that:

• Just under half (44%) of the institutions conducting animal research carry a recognisable statement on their websites explaining the use of animals in research/animal welfare.

• Just over half the websites assessed (53%) meet the criterion for providing ‘more information’, for instance by including the kind of animals used.

• Well under a third (28%) of the websites can be considered to have prominent mentions of animal research – such as recognisable statements within three clicks of the homepage.

• Only just over a third (36%) of the websites assessed carry any imagery related to animal research.

• Around half the websites (49%) assessed featured some kind of case study on the animal research they support, fund or conduct.

• Fewer than a quarter (23%) of the websites in the sector provide ‘Extensive Information’ online, for instance, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or press releases.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “We believe the sector needs to make greater use of all opportunities to be more accessible and to be more transparent with the public. Whilst progress has been made by many institutions, much more could be done.”

The study has helped EARA identify areas of good practice on communications and openness in the life sciences sector and areas where improvement is needed. It will also help EARA provide guidance on best practice to all its member organisations and the sector as a whole across Europe and build on the advice already given to EARA members in the EARA Communications Handbook.

EARA anticipates that institutional websites will play an increasingly important role in informing members of the public, media, decision-makers and regulators about the use of animals in research and the contribution of animal research to biomedical science. The website study is therefore a tool that can then be used to encourage greater transparency in line with the recommendations made in Section 3 of the Review of Directive 2010/63/EU in November 2017.

Using the documentation and techniques developed in the course of this study, EARA intends in future years to revisit the websites involved and chart the improvement (or otherwise) of the institutional openness of the sector as a whole.

For further information contact EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, btolliday@eara.eu on +44 (0)20 3675 1245 or +44 (0)7970 132801

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Notes to editors

About EARA

The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It also takes responsibility for the choice and sustainability in the global transport of animals for medical research. It has more than 60 partner organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 14 European countries.

EARA’s vision is to enhance the understanding and recognition of research involving animals across Europe, allowing for a more constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and a more efficient climate for research in Europe.

The benefits of animal research
Most of the medicines we have come from animal research. Often science doesn’t need to use animals, but for many key questions they are crucial. They will help millions with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord damage and parasitic infections like malaria. There are three main reasons why animals are used in research:

• To advance scientific understanding,
• To develop solutions to medical problems,
• To test medicines and vaccines in order to protect the safety of people, animals and the environment.

Animals are used when there is a need to find out what happens in the whole living body, which is far more complex than the sum of its parts. It is very difficult, and in most cases simply not yet possible, to develop non-animal methods to replace the use of living animals.