A UK government survey suggests that a majority of the British public accept the use of animals in medical research but it wishes to see more transparency.

The Department of Business Innovation and Skills report is based on research by Ipsos Mori,involving 969 respondents. Some 68% agreed that they can accept the use of animals in research for medical purposes where there are no alternatives, while around half agreed that animals should only be used in research into “life-threatening or debilitating diseases”.

The poll also concludes that “public knowledge of the animal research field is limited”. Three in 10 respondents believed cosmetics testing on animals is still allowed in the UK, which has not been the case for over 15 years, and only 7% of respondents said that they know “a fair amount or a great deal about the UK government’s work to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research".

Minister for life sciences George Freeman said animal research is currently essential for dementia, cancer and heart disease meds and “the results of this survey show that the majority of people accept this, but that there is room for improvement on openness and transparency within the field”. Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research, added that the poll also shows that “much more needs to be done to help people understand the realities of animal research in the 21st century, noting that “since 1986 it has been illegal to use an animal if there is a viable alternative”.

ABPI - committed to be more open

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s chief executive Stephen Whitehead noted that the sector has worked with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) over the past ten years “to advance science by exploring new areas in discovery and to break new ground in scientific, ethical and regulatory advancements”. He added that the ABPI and many of its member companies have signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research (published in May) “and we are committed to being more open, transparent and accountable for the research that we conduct, fund and support”.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection welcomed what it claimed constituted “the continuing decline in support for animal experiments” shown by Ipsos-Mori. Among the findings it cited, the most common description of animal research organisations is “secretive”, at 44%, whereas only 22% think they are “well-regulated”.

Chief executive Michelle Thew said the results “bear out the strong public support for the BUAV’s campaign to end the secrecy surrounding animal research and allow an informed public discussion of what is actually done to animals”. She added that “massive public funding of an industry which is primarily seen as secretive is clearly against the public interest”.