David Willetts opens press conference on attitudes to animal research
The Science Media Centre and Understanding Animal Research held a press conference today to discuss the latest mori poll data on the public attitude to animal research. The research sector took the opportunity of the press conference to launch a 'concordat' on transparency in animal research.
The mori poll showed a slight drop in the public acceptance of animal research (details below). The research sector, represented at the press briefing by Fran Balkwill (UAR), David Willetts (Science Minister), Sharmilla Nebhrajani (AMRC), Stephen Whitehead (ABPI) and Mark Walport (Wellcome Trust) made the following points.
David Willetts explained the importance of biomedical research, and that public support is vital to ensuring that the UK continues to have excellent scientific programmes. He stated that animal research forms a small but vital component of bio-medical research, ensuring that sound, well-regulated scientific work underpins our medical advances. He also stated that testing of new medical treatments on animals is a legal requirement in the UK, for safety reasons. He concluded by giving an example of some of the UK’s excellent MRC funded work in dementia.
Fran Balkwill began by addressing the key headline, which is the fall in public support for research. She emphasised that the scientific community are taking this seriously and may have taken the high level of public support for granted. She will point out that support for animal research is still high, and that it is right that we live in a society where the public expect excellent welfare standards and rigorous legislation. We feel that the decline in support is because the ‘debate’ about animal research has largely gone away, and the many ‘good news’ stories about animal research are less prominent. She also announced that UAR has a new Chief Executive (Wendy Jarrett) and will continue to lead as the public-facing organisation that communicates on Animal Research.
Stephen Whitehead explained that researchers are no longer terrorised by extremist groups, however, their legacy has left the research community concerned about the consequences of being open about their research. Recent issues such as problems transporting research animals need to be addressed if high quality medical research is to continue, and public confidence is needed to support our scientists. 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.
Mark Walport picked up on Fran’s opening point – that there has been a fall in public support for animal research – and state that we rarely hear about the many good examples of research that are out there. Consequently he intends to develop a Concordat whereby the life-science community as a whole can more formally take steps towards greater openness.
Main points about the MORI Poll
The MORI poll has been tracking public opinion for over 10 years, and the most recent version shows a slight decline in public acceptance of animal research in medicine.
- There was less public trust in the regulations governing animal experimentation
- Conditional acceptance of animal research had fallen slightly*
- Unconditional acceptance is slightly down
- Objection to animal research has increased but not significantly
*One group of the population surveyed (the 15-24 age group) has shown an increase in support since the last poll - this is the one group that has been consistently receiving information about animal research, through the UAR schools programme.
For a more detailed analysis see our press briefing sheet.