Ipsos Public Affairs has recently published a follow-up poll on Italians’ opinions about animal testing; Ipsos did the first survey on this subject in 2011, and the results were discussed in the Italian Senate the following year: many politicians were surprised to discover that opposition to animal research was considerably lower than animal rights groups made it out to be (activists have been repeating a claim that 86% of Italians are against animal research, though this figure does not hold up to professional polling stats released by Ipsos).
After three years, Ipsos repeated the poll to check if something has changed in the italian perception of animal research: this post aims to look at the positive changes that have occurred, and the swing in public opinion behind animal research. 1,000 people were surveyed in Ipsos’ research.
As an example, in 2014 49% of the interviewed subjects think that experimenting on animals to test medicines is acceptable; in 2011, this number was much lower, only 33%.
Italians are still very much against hunting (85% of Italians consider it unacceptable), the fur trade (95% said it was unacceptable) or experimenting on animals to verify the quality of cosmetic products (93% are against) – though it should be noted that cosmetic testing on animals is illegal in Italy (and thoughout the EU). While there has been a minor fall between 2011 to 2014 on public opinion on this issue, the change is small and does not alter the fact that most Italians remains supportive to animal welfare causes. However, these days there are clearly more people that understand how caring for animals and supporting animal research are not mutually exclusive goals.
Let’s examine the graphs further. In 2011, only 51% of the interviewees thought that animal research was necessary for medical progress. In 2014, this number has grown to 61%: that’s 6 out of 10 Italians. Compare this to the number of people that don’t think animal research is necessary for medicine – just 36%.
Animal rights activists often say that animal research is outdated, that technology can substitute animals for all kinds of testing; naturally we know this to be untrue, but what about Italians? What do they think about alternative methods?
In 2011, 63% of interviewees thought technology was able to take the place of most, if not all, medical purpose animal tests. In 2014 that number has dropped to 54% (see graph below), pointing to a more realistic outlook on the actual possibilities of technology. This reflects an improvement in the information that people are getting about animal research. This is likely to be, in part, because of the public focus on animal research (due to the violent activities of extremists) and because of the information provided by advocacy groups such as Pro-Test Italia.
These numbers are very encouraging, and they get even better. In both the 2011 and in 2014 Ipsos polls, the pollsters asked those surveyed whether they thought that animal research for medical purposes was acceptable or not; the subject’s answer was written down, the interviewer then provided information regarding animal research to the participant (such as the way European regulations protect lab animals’ health and well-being, how suffering is limited and regulated, and so on), and the initial question was repeated (“in light of these informations, do you think that animal research is acceptable?”). After being informed of the way lab animals are cared for by researchers, many subjects changed their answer; the harshest critics of animal research (those that answered “it’s never acceptable”), went from 30% down to 16%, while strong supporters of animal research went from 26% to 37%.
The 2014 Ipsos poll confirms what we already discovered in 2011: when people are correctly informed about animal research, their support of it grows noticeably. However, the 2014 poll showed an increased awareness of the general public in regards to animal research and its importance in the development of new drugs: this is no surprise, over the last few years Italian scientists and researchers started fighting back the “no vivisection” movements, with the support of new associations such as Pro-Test Italia.
To cut a long story short, providing accurate information about animal research remains key to giving people the means to form an educated opinion about animal research, and with an increase of knowledge on the subject, there’s also an increase in animal research’s acceptance. We have a long way ahead of us, but we’ve definitely started on the right foot.