‘We are lagging behind on openness about animal research’ say vets and lab technicians.
A survey of Australian and New Zealand vets and technicians who care for animals, used in medical and veterinary research, has shown that most believe scientific institutions should be more open about animal use.
They are also supportive of a public pledge, similar to those found in European countries, to commit Australian and New Zealand institutions to greater openness.
The survey by the Australian and New Zealand Laboratory Animal Association (ANZLAA) of more than 150 people working in animal care has found that 87% believe research institutions in Australia and New Zealand should be more open about their research involving animals.
Speaking at this week’s ANZLAA conference in Perth, Australia, veterinarians Dr Malcolm France and Dr Jodi Salinsky said that 87 per cent of survey respondents wanted research organisations to be more open and would support the development of an ‘openness agreement’ similar to the UK’s successful Concordat on Openness on Animal Research.
The Concordat has seen over 120 of the UK’s top scientific bodies implement initiatives to give the public a better idea of what actually happens in an animal research setting.
“Although several other countries have their own version based on the UK model or are actively working on it, we are lagging well behind in Australia and New Zealand,” said Dr France. “There are definitely some organisations that have been commendably proactive about openness in this part of the world, but most are still hesitant and there is nothing in place at a national level to encourage greater openness.”
Speaking in response, Kirk Leech, Executive Director of the European Animal Research Association (EARA), said: “This is a welcome initiative by ANZLAA.”
“Transparency agreements in Europe have provided far greater awareness of the importance of explaining more clearly to the general public why animal research is the only option for testing new drugs and how it has played a part in all the major treatments for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.”
EARA, the communications and advocacy organisation for scientific research using animals in Europe, is working with biomedical associations in several European countries. It was instrumental in helping to set up the Spanish Transparency Agreement which now has 140 members, from both public and private research.
Drs France and Salinsky agreed that while animal research may be ethically contentious, the UK Concordat has seen some impressive efforts to present the public with better information to draw their own conclusions. Institutions signing up to the Concordat typically have a website giving details of the number and species of animals they use and then provide crucial context by explaining the goals of the research and how animals are cared for. Some have gone much further with initiatives like virtual tours of animal facilities or public open days.
The survey also found the respondents believed that the public don’t realise how much is done to support the welfare of animals and that there is much false information that needs correcting.
Dr France said “a sad consequence of the lack of openness is the negative impact it has on those who provide day-to-day care for the animals. Most animal technicians choose their vocation because they love animals. Even if they have mixed feelings about animal research, they are determined to see the animals receive the best possible care. Unfortunately, they are often reluctant to talk about their work because they fear a negative reaction based on public misunderstanding and outdated images in anti-vivisection campaign material.”
Dr Salinsky agreed adding that “Greater openness would help give well-earned recognition to these dedicated individuals, increase public understanding of animal research and highlight the effort made to ensure the welfare of the animals.”
Most animal technicians are drawn to their vocation by a love of animals and a desire to ensure the best possible welfare for animals used in research.
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Notes to editors:
Research on animals is highly regulated around the world. In Australia, research that involves the use of animals must be conducted according to the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes which is enforced by State and Territory legislation. In New Zealand, animal research is regulated under the Animal Welfare Act and must be conducted according to an approved Code of Ethical Conduct. In both countries, any research project that will involve animals must first be approved and is then subject to ongoing monitoring by an Animal Ethics Committee, the membership of which must include veterinarians, laypersons and animal welfare advocates external to the institution.
The principle of ‘The 3Rs’ (Reduction, Replacement and Refinement of animals used in research) are emphasised in the regulatory framework governing animal research in Australia and New Zealand. Although there are some alternatives to using animals, they are not yet sophisticated enough to replace animals in many scientific studies.
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 www.eara.eu
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.