Tag Archives: transparency

Join the Webinar on steps to transparency and openness in the U.S.

FREE WEBINAR
Tuesday, 6 February, 11am (U.S.Eastern)
Topic: How to advance public acceptance of research with animals in the U.S. through greater transparency and openness.
Joining details
The National Primate Research Centers is hosting this webinar as a precursor to more detailed discussions at the 5th International Basel Declaration Society Conference in San Francisco, February 14-15.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, will open the webinar with a brief presentation about the European approach followed by a moderated a discussion on ways the scientific community can improve public support in the U.S. for animal research.

There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest those who conduct research with animals are failing to improve public acceptability of animal research in the United States. Recent polling also suggests that when animal research is put into context, such as highlighting the specific disease areas and potential advances being investigated using animal models, support rises substantially. Thus, the need for the scientific community to more consistently communicate the continuing need for animal research to the public is apparent.
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University of Munster launches Principles document on the ethical treatment of animals in testing.

The University of Münster, in Germany, has launched its Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Scientific Research and Teaching, as part of the institution’s approach to greater transparency on the issue of animal research.

Part of this initiative has been to invite journalists to visit the university’s European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) and the Central Institute for Animal Experiments (ZTE), which houses rats, pigs, zebra fish and 14 white rabbits for courses on animal testing. this article is reproduced from the university’s website.

Dr. Sonja Schelhaas, who works at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging at Münster University, answers questions from ZEIT editor Fritz Habekuß during the journalists’ visit.

BEHIND THE SCENES: JOURNALISTS VISIT THE ANIMAL TESTING LAB
AT MUNSTER UNIVERSITY

“The white mouse has been anaesthetized. Its little legs have been fixed to a heating plate by means of adhesive strips, and a large amount of gel has been spread over its clean-shaven breast. An ultrasound probe is positioned overhead, and Richard Holtmeier, a member of the team at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) at the University of Münster is using this to study how the mouse copes with a plastic catheter which has been inserted into its carotid artery. Sources of infection inside the body can be seen on the screen of the ultrasound device.

“We can’t see inflammations without using optical imaging,” says Prof. Michael Schäfers, the Director of EIMI. The researchers use this experiment to try and find out why bacteria collect on artificial implants such as hips or knees. The experiment lasts ten minutes, and afterwards Richard Holtmeier carefully puts the mouse in the storage box. “We need animal testing because we can’t carry out the experiments on humans,” Schäfer explains. “It takes a very long time before our findings can be used for the benefit of patients.” During any series of experiments a mouse is used, on average, two and a half times. After this, the animal is killed and tissue is removed from it for further research.

In the lab there are seven journalists from newspapers and a news agency who have been invited here by the Münster University Press Office. Full of curiosity, they watch the EIMI staff at work. A hubbub of voices fills the cramped room. Everyone is wearing a white coat, everyone has to watch out for the others in the room. While the researchers around Michael Schäfers describe their daily work and demonstrate three experiments involving imaging, the journalists go about their own work: asking questions, making plenty of notes. The reason for the journalists’ visit is the unanimous vote by the University Senate in October to adopt the six-page “Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Scientific Research and Teaching”.

Call for greater transparency
Seeing journalists in an animal testing laboratory at the University of Münster is something that would have been unimaginable until just recently. Over the past few years, though, there have been ever louder demands – from both inside and outside the University – for greater transparency. Calls for a debate came not only from among students, but also from scientists and researchers who advocated more openness. The idea of drawing up a set of principles was born and was supported by the Rectorate. On the “Coordination Committee for Animal Testing”, whose members came from a variety of disciplines, there then followed some lengthy, painstaking wrangling to reach agreement on content and wording.

The Principles were to be presented to the Senate in 2016. The Committee informed the University Press Office. One thing was clear: publicly, the Principles should be made as widely known as possible. But it was also clear that it would be difficult to persuade external journalists to come to Münster for a press briefing just to hear about these Principles. For journalists, it is incomparably more interesting to see and experience what the issue is all about. Thus it was that the idea was born of combining a press briefing with discussions and a look inside an animal testing laboratory. The Press Office had already worked out the plans with the researchers involved when the preparations had to be halted. The reason was that the Senate asked for a public hearing to be held before the Principles were adopted. And so the thought of any PR work was put on hold until then.

Two standpoints, one set of principles
The public hearing followed in 2017. In October the Senate voted for the Principles to be adopted – without any objections or votes against. The Press Office and the researchers now resumed their plans for a press event. The result can be seen today, on this day in November, with the seven journalists who have come to visit EIMI. Before everyone can take a look inside the lab, there is first a press briefing. After a look inside the lab, the next step will be a visit to the Central Institute for Animal Experiments at the Faculty of Medicine.

It is clear even before the Principles are presented that animal experiments are a controversial issue. Biophysician Prof. Stefan Schlatt is the spokesperson for the Coordination Committee for Animal Testing. He also uses monkeys in his research work – and does so because he wants to help people. In contrast to Stefan Schlatt, Committee member Dr. Johann Ach – a philosopher undertaking research into ethical problems in modern medicine and into animal ethics – considers most animal experiments to be “ethically unacceptable”. Two opposing opinions which are taken up and included in the journalists’ reports.

“Some honesty at last”
Despite their differing standpoints, both Stefan Schlatt and Johann Ach put forward their concerns in a level-headed and constructive manner. Several questions are raised on the practicability of implementing the Principles. After all, the paper can include all sorts of things, but how can it be verified that researchers at the University take seriously the moral responsibility they have towards sentient creatures? The paper provides a framework for guidance, says Johann Ach, and time alone will tell whether it proves itself in practise. The Principles are not something that only research staff and those responsible for animal testing should adhere to – the University’s Rectorate also firmly supports them. “These Principles have the support of the Rectorate, and have been voted for by the Senate, and the University thereby wishes to make it clear where it stands on this issue,” says Prof. Monika Stoll, Vice-Rector for Research, by way of clarification. The journalists seize on this message. In the next few days, the University’s stated intention is reflected in press headlines such as “Principles for Less Suffering” or “Some honesty at last”

Münster University wants a level-headed, public debate – for which PR work is necessary. In 2015 the Press Office had already made a first move towards greater assertiveness and transparency in dealing with the issue of animal testing. The occasion at the time was the opening of a second Animal Protection Centre at the University, which was set up at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences in addition to the existing Centre at the Faculty of Medicine. The Press Office published a two-page article on animal testing in the June issue of the University newspaper “wissen|leben”. The article included a debate between Stefan Schlatt and Johann Ach, in which they each put forward their opposing standpoints.

After the article was published, there followed a waiting game. What would happen now? Might the University’s image be damaged if journalists seized on the issue and reported on animal experiments at the University? And things could have turned nasty: everyone involved had in the back of their minds cases involving other German research institutes, where researchers had been personally attacked by radical animal rights activists. After a few weeks it became clear that … nothing would happen. Some praise here and there for the comprehensive reporting, but otherwise no reaction.

Seeing how animals are kept
Back to the journalists’ visit. After the press briefing and the visit to EIMI, the next topic to be dealt with is how animals are kept – because keeping animals for research purposes in appropriate conditions is also a responsibility that researchers have. The journalists get to see how animals are kept at the University of Münster when they visit the Central Institute for Animal Experiments (ZTE), which houses rats, pigs, zebra fish and 14 white rabbits for courses on animal testing. The rabbits live in small groups and can move around freely in three straw-bedded boxes.

Anyone entering the ZTE is met with a pungent smell of animal. Normally, visitors cannot enter the rooms just like that. The building is well secured – not least because germs must be prevented from entering it. This is why face masks, lab coats, gloves and shoe covers are compulsory for anyone coming into contact with animals. Marmosets and macaques jump around behind the bars of their cages. Before Stefan Schlatt lets the journalists into the room housing the macaques, he asks the group why they think the monkeys are staring at the blue door with the viewing window. There is a simple explanation: the monkeys are watching television, so that they are kept occupied. “Again and again there are discussions on how much TV is healthy in a day. Basically, our animals here are better off than in any standard form of accommodation for animals,” says Schlatt.

An unusual step
The issue of animal testing is controversial and will remain so. But ways of handling the issue are changing in many places. At Münster University, too, the issue is now more visible than in the past. 2017 saw the appointment to the University of Prof. Helene Richter, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Protection. The chair is the only one of its kind in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the things which the University of Münster is doing with its new Principles on the Ethical Treatment of Animals is to advocate greater transparency towards the public on the issue of animal testing. The visit to the lab at EIMI and the guided tour of the ZTE are a beginning, and one which one journalist described as “an unusual step”.

Christina Heimken and Kathrin Nolte

Animal rights infiltration at Brussels university

On Tuesday, Belgian animal rights group GAIA published video material taken during an undercover investigation at the animal research facility of the Free University of Brussels (VUB), Belgium. The footage was taken over the course of three months, and suggests that the care for the animals in the facility was inadequate. VUB announced that they will investigate the footage and cooperate with an external inquiry announced by the State Secretary for animal welfare.

vub-infiltration

Coverage of the infiltration on the website of Het Laatste Nieuws, the most popular newspaper in Flanders and Belgium.

The infiltration took place between March and June of this year. Under orders of GAIA, an undercover informant spent three months working as an animal caretaker at VUB’s Animalarium, the animal research facility at the university’s Jette campus. The six minute long video that GAIA released on Tuesday shows footage of animals in the facility, as well as recordings of conversations with employees at the Animalarium. Reactions to the video where mixed: half of comments on the article in Het Laatste Nieuws were opposed to animal research, while around 25% explained the role of animal research in biomedicine, and a further 25% were neutral on the issue.

VUB has announced that it will thoroughly investigate the footage to determine whether any of the events in the video breached national legislation or the university’s internal standards. The university understands that the video has raised concerns, and will examine the need for a strengthening of internal procedures. In addition, VUB has advanced plans for a new research infrastructure designed to provide housing for research animals with the most modern techniques, with particular attention being paid to animal welfare.

Bianca Debaets, Brussels State Secretary for Animal Welfare, has said she was shocked by the footage, and that her administration will carry out an extra inspection of the lab in question. The VUB has promised its full cooperation in the inspection. Debaets added that Brussels subsidises promising 3Rs research at the VUB and that animal research remains necessary in research, and should remain possible within a strict and well-enforced legislative framework.

European scientific community welcomes EU review of the Directive for the protection of animals used for research

PRESS RELEASE

LONDON, UK – 10 November, 2017

The European scientific community supports the view of the EU Commission, that the Directive on the protection of animals used in biomedical research is bringing significant benefits in animal welfare and a sound foundation for future best practice in the sector.

The European Animal Research Association (EARA), which represents more than 60 organisations across Europe in the biomedical research sector, has welcomed the Commission report, published today. The report reviews the requirements of Directive 2010/63/EU – all uses of live animals for research or education and testing must be carried out in compliance with the Directive.

In particular, the EU recognised that measures to improve transparency to the general public on the performance of research establishments in the areas of animal use and welfare are starting to have an effect. Requirements to publish non-technical summaries of the objectives and benefits of research projects, as well as annual statistical data, are also seen to have greatly improved openness in Member States. Continue reading

A trans-Atlantic transparency gap on animal experiments

This article was originally published in Science on 14 July 2017

The launch last month of a website called LabAnimalTour.org, which showcases animal experiments at several prominent institutions in the United Kingdom, is part of a trend toward increasing openness by researchers in a country that 2 decades ago was riven by sometimes-violent animal rights activism.

Since 2014, 116 life sciences organizations in the United Kingdom have signed onto a Concordat on Openness on Animal Research that commits them to communicating frankly and in detail about their animal experiments. Ninety Spanish institutions adopted a similar pledge last year, and universities in Belgium, France, and Germany are talking about moving in the same direction. Continue reading

Max Planck Society publishes White Paper on animal research

The Max Planck Society (MPS) in Germany has published a White Paper in which it outlines key ethical issues surrounding the use of animals in basic research. The Senate of the MPS has adopted the white paper as a declaration of principle.

White Paper: Animal Research in the Max Planck Society

The White Paper states why animal research is still a vital part of life sciences research, and explains the legal and ethical framework that regulates animal research at the Max Planck Society. Together with the 3Rs, these issues shape the approach to animal research throughout the Society.

Practically, the Max Planck Society has translated the ethical stance on animal research outlined in the White Paper into a number of commitments, including measures to increase animal welfare, encouraging and financing alternatives to the use of animals, and proactive engagement in professionalizing the public discourse on animal ethics.

In an important step the MPS has committed itself to open and proactive communications on the use of animals in research by explaining the research goals, the rationale for the application of certain methods and the outcome of the research projects to the public at large. In this way, the MPS intends to foster an informed dialogue between science and society on the use of animals in biomedical research. Continue reading

We aren’t sadists, but we do animal research

A group of young, ambitious Belgian scientists have had enough of standing by doing nothing while animal research is criticised in the media. This article by Liesbeth Aerts and Jeroen Aerts was translated from the original Dutch version published in De Standaard on 26 December 2016.

‘Sadists’, ‘bastards, ‘a gang of psychopaths’, ‘worse than Dutroux [serial killer and child molester]’ … a selection of the insults directed at animal researchers that appear each time the debate about animal research surfaces in the media. One day we are awarded with prizes for our research, the other day we are cursed, insulted or threatened.

As young ambitious researchers, we care deeply about our work and also about this controversial subject. The mixed feelings of the general public indicate there is still a lot of mystery about what really goes on behind the doors of a scientific laboratory.

Spokespersons and policy makers don’t seem to understand it very well either, and the people heading our research institutes are silent as usual. Since we are doing the actual animal experiments, we are the ones at the receiving end of all of these insults. We are told to keep our head down, for fear of reprisal; but we don’t want to stand by and do nothing while we are put on trial in the press and on social media. Continue reading

Transparency Agreement on Animal Research launched in Spain

A Transparency Agreement on Animal Research in Spain was launched yesterday in Madrid. The Acuerdo de transparencia sobre el uso de animales en experimentación científica en España (lit. ‘Transparency agreement on the use of animals in scientific experimentation in Spain’), has been developed by Spain’s Confederation of Scientific Societies (COSCE) in collaboration with EARA. 

The Spanish document has been developed based on the UK Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. Similar to the UK Concordat, the Agreement outlines four commitments for research centres in Spain to provide more information about animal research at their institutions.

Continue reading

On Lab Animal Day, Belgian science unites in support of animal research

This blog was also published on Huffington Post UK.

World Day for Laboratory Animals on 24 April was originally established by animal rights activists to raise awareness for the fate of animals in laboratories. Every year on that day, they organise demonstrations and petitions against animal research. But this time, on behalf of 24 research institutions in Belgium, we wanted to raise awareness of the important biomedical research that would not be possible without research using animals. Continue reading