Seventy-two organizations have signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, committing to improving their communication surrounding the animal research they (or their members) conduct or fund. Signatories undertaken to fulfil the Concordat’s four commitments:
We will be clear about when, how and why we use animals in research
We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals
We will be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals
We will report on progress annually and share our experiences
The signatories include universities (e.g. Oxford and Cambridge), charities (e.g. Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation), Pharmaceuticals (e.g.. Pfizer and AstraZeneca), Learned societies (e.g. The Royal Society and The Physiological Society) and major funding bodies (e.g. The Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council).
It is important to realise that this openness is not new. Many of the signatories have been active in explaining the animal research they do. In January this year the University of Oxford invited the BBC to film inside its primate facility. Last year, Alzheimer’s Research UK produced both an informative animal research leaflet and a fantastic website showing its dementia lab, including discussion of animals used. These are just a few examples.
Dominic Wells. who studies neuromuscular diseases at the Royal Veterinary College (a signatory), told Nature that the Concordat probably makes the United Kingdom “the most open place in the world” regarding animal research. Adding, “I do feel we’re leading the way on this.”
The story of the Concordat started in 2012 when Ipsos-Mori polls showed that 40% of the British public would like more information about animal research. This led to the Declaration on Openness in Animal Research in which forty organizations agreed to develop a Concordat to set out how they should provide more information about their research programmes. This Concordat has now been realised, with many extra organizations signing their commitment to it.
Speaking about the Concordat, Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research and Chair of the Working Group, said:
For many years, the only ‘information’ or images that the public could access about animal research were provided by organisations opposed to the use of animals in scientific progress. This is why many people still think that animal research means testing cosmetics and tobacco, despite the fact that these have been banned in the UK for more than 15 years. The Concordat is an excellent opportunity to dispel these myths and give the public a chance to see the ground-breaking research that is being done on its behalf.
The responses by animal rights groups in The Guardian have been fairly muted. The BUAV condemned the Concordat, saying: “Informed public debate is essential but it cannot happen without meaningful information being available. … What they should not do is tell the public that this is the same thing as genuine transparency. The concordat approach is simply transparency on their terms“. The hypocrisy of their statement is clear when you remember that in 2010 the BUAV called for “a change in the law to allow people to find out what is happening to animals and why“.
Why is a group that purports to want greater openness criticising a commitment by research institutions to do just that? Could it be that as the research community puts out more and more information about when, how and why they do animal research, the less space there is for groups like the BUAV to fill the shrinking void with their misinformation and pseudoscience.
Speaking of Research support the aims of greater openness in animal research and so applaud the efforts being made in the UK to improve communication between the research community and the public. We look forward to seeing how institutions will be moving forward with their commitments.
Speaking of Research