Author Archives: Editor

Italy finally publishes 2013 statistics

While we will be posting Austria’s 2015 statistics on Monday, Italian authorities seem a little bit behind the times having only recently published their 2013 statistics for the use of animals in research. Italy carried out 723,739 procedures on animals in 2013, 5.9% less than in 2012.

Procedures on animals in the Italy for research in 2013. Click to Enlarge

The fall in the number of experiments is mainly due to a large (30%) fall in the number of fish, and a moderate drop in rats (9%) and mice (3.5%). There was also a small fall in dogs (down 45% to 300 procedures) and a rise in the number of primates experiments (up 41% to 475).

Animal Experiments in Italy in 2013. Click to Enlarge

Animal Experiments in Italy in 2013. Click to Enlarge

Rodents accounted for over 90% of all animals used in Italy in 2013 (mainly mice at 67.5% of the total). This rises to almost 98% when you include fish and birds. Primates and dogs together accounted for 0.1% of all research animals. No cats were used in 2013 (0r 2012).

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Italy’s 2013 statistics do not include measures of animal suffering – though this should come into the 2014 statistics (which most European countries have already published). What we can see (Table 2) is that most of the animal use (54%) was  basic research, followed by applied human studies (17%) and safety testing of human medicine and dentistry products (14%).

From historical statistics we can see a steady decline of over 25% since 2007. These numbers tend to reflect changing science funding environments within the country.

Trends in Italian animal experiments 2007-13. Click to Enlarge.

Trends in Italian animal experiments 2007-13. Click to Enlarge.

On Monday we should be publishing our 2015 Austrian statistics, and we will publish other country data as we get it. See our summary of statistics to compare countries, and please send us any data you find that we are lacking.

Santa Cruz Biotechnology and the USDA

Speaking of Research have been troubled by the events which have unfolded at Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SCBT), including (but not limited to) the recent actions taken against the organization by the USDA. As an organization that strongly supports and advocates for the humane and responsible treatment of laboratory animals, Speaking of Research is critical of any organisation that does not meet its obligation to ensure the welfare of its animals, as well as any efforts to subvert the regulatory process. If the allegations against SCBT are true, their conduct is reprehensible. SR has written about these allegations in the past in the article’s “Santa Cruz Biotechnology: Dealing with Bad Behaviour” and “Caveat Emptor“. The following article is reprinted, with permission, from the American Physiology Society (images are not from the original article).

On May 19, 2016, antibody producer Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SCBT), Inc. reached an agreement with the USDA to resolve allegations of numerous Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations. Under the terms of this agreement, SCBT neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the company agreed that by May 31, 2016 it would pay a record $3.5 million fine. SCBT also agreed that as of May 31, 2016, it would cease antibody production involving USDA-regulated species and relinquish its registration as a research facility. SCBT also agreed to allow USDA to revoke its license as a dealer as of December 31, 2016, after which it can no longer sell antibodies made from USDA-regulated species.

Photo credit: Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel

Photo credit: Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel

USDA filed three formal complaints against SCBT between July 12, 2012 and August 7, 2015 based upon the observations of inspectors from the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) during multiple unannounced visits. The USDA complaints alleged that the company repeatedly violated the AWA in its treatment of goats used for antibody production. (For more about the USDA’s case against SCBT, see Caveat Emptor.) The complaints included allegations that SCBT failed to provide appropriate veterinary care to sick and injured animals; that its staff handled animals improperly; and that the company’s institutional animal care and use committee failed to ensure that animals were housed under appropriate conditions and that the animals’ pain and distress were minimized during antibody production. In its third complaint dated August 7, 2015, USDA also alleged that SCBT “demonstrated bad faith by misleading APHIS personnel about the existence of an undisclosed location where respondent housed regulated animals.” This “undisclosed location” was a barn where some 841 goats—including sick ones—were housed.

Top antibody suppliers in the US in 2012. Image from The Scientist

Top antibody suppliers in the US in 2012. Image from The Scientist

SCBT initially contested the USDA’s allegations and sought a hearing before an administrative law judge. After several delays, a hearing where both sides could present evidence case took place August 18–20, 2015 before Administrative Law Judge Janice Bullard. The hearing was suspended on the morning of August 21 with no explanation given. It was later scheduled to resume on April 5, 2016 and then postponed again until August 15, 2016.

The settlement agreement gives SCBT until the end of 2016—when its license will be revoked—to sell antibodies made from blood and serum it collected from regulated animals prior to August 21, 2015. However, SCBT had to stop producing antibodies from this blood and serum by May 31, 2016 when it agreed to cancel its registration as a research facility. Since the AWA does not regulate rodents bred for research, SCBT can continue to sell antibodies produced in mice.

Antibodies play an important role in both clinical medicine and research because they react to the presence of specific proteins. Antibody production starts by injecting an animal with a protein. This activates the immune system, which generates antibodies to identify the invading protein. Some types of antibodies are purified directly from blood collected from animals injected with a protein. Other types can be produced in a laboratory with cell lines created by fusing an initial batch of purified antibodies to harmless cancer cells. Antibodies target either one region of a protein (monoclonal antibodies) or several regions (polyclonal antibodies).

Why did the SCBT case take almost four years to settle? From a legal perspective, APHIS inspections findings represent allegations of AWA violations, and our system guarantees due process: Those accused of violating the law are entitled to their day in court. Kudos should go to USDA for its persistence in marshaling sufficient evidence to convince SCBT to agree to this settlement.

American Physiological Society

Novo Nordisk demonstrate what good openness looks like

Openness has been a buzz word in science policy over the past five years, particularly for animal research. Today, Speaking of Research reached 250 animal research statements on our list of public statements, up from 200 in February (is your institution included?). Much of our focus has been on universities, particularly in the UK and US. In the past we have showcased examples of good openness including the University of Edinburgh, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and Primate Products Inc.

Today we will focus on a Danish pharmaceutical company – Novo Nordisk – and their excellent efforts at greater openness and transparency around their animal research.

Novonordisk provide a whole section of their website on Animal Ethics. This starts out with a clear statement about the ongoing need for animals to test new pharmaceutical and medical products.

At present, some research using living animals is essential for all pharmaceutical companies in the discovery, development and production of new pharmaceutical and medical products.
[…]
We only use animals in research where no alternative exists. We recognise that not all research using animals can be replaced in the foreseeable future and consider it our responsibility to actively support the principles of the 3Rs.

This front page also talks about the “Responsible use of animals” including the 3Rs, efforts to replace animal tests and the importance of animal welfare. They include a video on the front page, which shows their facilities.

Novo Nordisk website providing videos of its research animals and facilities

Novo Nordisk website providing videos of its research animals and facilities

There’s dedicated subpages on Housing, Ethical Review, their 3Rs Award, Welfare  and External Contractors. They also have a page with nine different videos showing the animal enclosures. This is among the best sets of videos provided by an animal research institution showing its animals.

There is also a page which outlines the number of each species of animal used at Novo Nordisk over the past three years. In 2015, Novo Nordisk used 67,240 animals, of which almost 97% were mice or rats.

Finally, Novo Nordisk have produced a fantastic 24-page brochure titled “Animals in Pharmaceutical Research: A responsible approach” which explains more about their research, with a particular focus towards their 3Rs efforts.  The brochure provides plenty of pictures and information, as well as the principles of animal use which underpin their animal research work. Explaining why animal research is necessary to their work:

Before new pharmaceutical products can be studied in people, they need to be investigated in animals for efficacy, safety and toxicology, as it is not yet possible to examine the complex interactions in a living organism solely by the use of cell cultures and tissues.

Animals are only used in research and development at Novo Nordisk when no alternative exists. The use of animals in the early phases of the company’s drug discovery and development has been reduced by applying tissue cultures, cell-based and other non-animal models.

Click to Enlarge

Click to go to the brochure

Overall, the information provided by Novo Nordisk is fantastic – above and beyond any other pharmaceutical company’s online offering we have seen to date. If there was one possible area for improvement, it would be the provision of some case studies to explain a few examples of exactly how and why animals are used. This would also give them full marks on our animal research statement ratings.

So all that’s left to say is to congratulate Novo Nordisk for its fantastic web resources. Speaking of Research will continue to celebrate good examples of openness and public outreach wherever we can find it.

Has your institution got a statement or set or web pages explaining its animal research for the public? Is it on our list (if not, tell us)? Could it be improved? Speaking of Research has written about what makes a good public-facing webpage on an institution’s animal research.

Speaking of Research

Montage of images from the Novo Nordisk brochure on its animal research. Click to Enlarge

Montage of images from the Novo Nordisk brochure on its animal research. Click to Enlarge

Successful Outreach on Biomedical Research Awareness Day

Dr Logan FranceWe have a follow up guest post from Dr. Logan France, 2015-16 Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) Hayre Fellow and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She discusses the result of her outreach project – Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD). AMP is still opening their application for this year’s Michael D Hayre Fellowship in Public Outreach – a great opportunity to get involved in helping to explain the role of animals in medical research.

The first national Biomedical Research Awareness Day (BRAD) in the U.S. was a huge success! On April 19th twenty veterinary schools participated in the observance to provide more information about animal-based research and to honor the contribution of laboratory animals to medical progress. Each school seized the opportunity to be involved in this nation-wide project and did an incredible job executing their celebrations.

The Enrichment Matching Game was used to teach participants about the various toys and enrichment items that are provided to animals in research in an effort to elicit normal species-specific behavior. Here, students at Cornell University test their knowledge.

The Enrichment Matching Game was used to teach participants about the various toys and enrichment items that are provided to animals in research in an effort to elicit normal species-specific behavior. Here, students at Cornell University test their knowledge.

I created BRAD during my tenure as a Michael D. Hayre Fellow at Americans for Medical Progress, and was thrilled to see so many veterinary schools respond enthusiastically.  While BRAD was primarily designed for veterinary students, many schools went beyond that, hosting events during their Vet School Open House and engaging the general public. The celebrations also involved undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary students, as well as faculty and staff at each school. Social media played a large role in the initiative, both in spreading the word about BRAD and allowing students to tell what their school was doing.  Students from the participating schools posted on the BRAD Facebook page prior to the event, sharing information about their organization, previous activities their club had hosted or participated in, and their plans for BRAD. During the event, students from around the country posted photos of their BRAD celebration on the Facebook page and conveyed their support of biomedical research. BRAD allowed students and faculty to band together with a common goal and use their resources to raise awareness.

Lectures and seminars were incorporated as part of the celebration at many schools. University of Georgia hosted a talk by Dr. Karin Powell on the importance of animals in research while Dr. Craig Franklin spoke to the students and faculty at Louisiana State University about the impact of microbiota on animal models of disease. These are just two of the fascinating topics that were explored during BRAD.

I really enjoyed Dr. Franklin’s presentation. His research is fascinating, and I feel like I learned a lot about potential career paths and research opportunities through BRAD.
– Rebecca Aust, the BRAD Student Coordinator at LSU

Colorado State University gave kids laboratory animal coloring sheets and used a button machine to make their creations into buttons to be worn throughout the day. It was a hit!

Colorado State University gave kids laboratory animal coloring sheets and used a button machine to make their creations into buttons to be worn throughout the day. It was a hit!

Interactive booths were set-up as a fun way to share information about biomedical research and animals in research, allow participants to show their support, and distribute educational items. Support banners were displayed for visitors to sign demonstrating their support for the animal heroes of biomedical research.

If a high-energy student is at the booth, most students walking by will stop, chat and learn something they didn’t know about research.
– David Andrews, BRAD Student Coordinator for Texas A&M University

“99% of all people signed the poster at the booth, including custodial staff, maintenance, staff, faculty and students,” says Andrews. 

“99% of all people signed the poster at the booth, including custodial staff, maintenance, staff, faculty and students,” says Andrews.

Washington State University, as well as many others, utilized freebies and giveaways to engage the public.

Candy and treats helped to draw people to our interactive booth. Additionally we had iPads available with the AALAS Animal Care Adventures app on them. This was a great way to engage kids that were at our open house, and then since kids were spending a lot of time at the table, we were able to engage their parents in discussion.
– Jourdan Brune, BRAD Student Coordinator at Washington State University.

Students and parents enjoyed the interactive booth and games at Washington State University’s Veterinary School Open House

Students and parents enjoyed the interactive booth and games at Washington State University’s Veterinary School Open House

BRAD has been over a year in the making, so seeing the outcome was moving and powerful. The responses from the schools were tremendous, and their enthusiasm for a project that focuses on biomedical and animal-based research speaks volumes. With the success we had in the first year, we are more excited than ever to see this initiative evolve and the impact it has in the future. The date for BRAD 2017 will be announced as soon as it is determined, and we look forward to increasing the number of participating institutions and making BRAD even better.  Please continue to visit the BRAD Facebook page for more information and updates.

Americans for Medical Progress is looking for their next Michael D. Hayre Fellow in Public Outreach. The application for 2016-2017 has been extended to June 15th.

Dr. Logan France

Dr. Dettmer Goes to Washington, Part 3

Part 3 of a 4-part series in which a scientific researcher learns how science advocacy groups influence the legislative process. Read Parts 1 and 2 about her Hill Day experience and her interview with a science advocacy group.

On April 27, 2016, as part of my Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Early Career Policy Ambassador outreach activities, I met with Representative John Delaney (D-MD, 6), in his office at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC. This was my first in-person meeting with an actual legislator, as during Hill Day the lawmakers were, unfortunately, too busy to meet with us in person. It was exciting getting ready for a face-to-face meeting with my Congressman! Rep. Delaney represents the 6th Congressional District in Maryland, which encompasses the cities of Gaithersburg, Germantown, Hagerstown, Cumberland, and my home city, Frederick. It also neighbors the 8th District, which encompasses Bethesda, home to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Dettmer with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD, 6)

Dr. Dettmer with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD, 6)

The first take-away from this meeting was, when Congressional staffers tell you that you have a 15-minute slot with your Representative, they mean it! I drove nearly an hour each way from Frederick to meet with Rep. Delaney, and I sat with him and two of his staffers in his office for exactly 15 minutes. And yet, the 15 minutes felt like a long time given what I knew about the tight schedules of lawmakers. Indeed, Rep. Delaney and I had plenty of time to discuss the legislative process surrounding pro-science policy.

Question 1: Since your election in 2012, what are some of pieces of pro-science legislation you have been actively involved in?
Notably, Delaney has repeatedly voted to increase funding for the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Regarding specific legislation, Delaney recently authored a clean energy amendment to H.R.702, a House bill to lift the ban on oil exports. This amendment emphasized the need for Congress to invest in clean energy technology and energy efficiency, and was passed in October 2015. Working with his colleague Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Delaney also introduced “50×30” resolutions in the House and Senate to encourage a national goal of generating “more than 50 percent of our electricity from clean and carbon-free sources by 2030.” In addition to his focus on increasing alternative energy research to reduce the effects of climate change, Delaney also noted that, “funding is lacking at the basic research level,” and that such funding is critical to discovering treatments for debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

Question 2: How does your office identify science topics to become involved in?
Congressional offices pay attention to topics that are relevant to the representatives’ home districts. In Delaney’s case, he is particularly aware of issues affecting the large number of constituents who work at Fort Detrick (home to the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute), NIST, NIH, and NSF. His office also prefers to focus around particular diseases or epidemics rather than general science funding.

Question 3: How does your office work with outside groups to stay informed on science topics?
Delaney’s office has points of contact at universities like Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, and will defer to the presidents of these institutions, or their affiliated hospitals, to help keep his office up to date with the latest scientific findings.

Question 4: What particular steps of the legislative process are you directly involved in?
Given the convoluted nature of lawmaking in the U.S., Delaney acknowledged that there are countless ways he and other lawmakers are directly involved. Specifically, however, he said he strives to “find a vein of bipartisan support” for his preferred pieces of legislation, and that building bipartisanship constitutes a large part of his action in the legislative process.

Question 5: Which steps do you think scientists can effectively engage in during the legislative process to inform lawmakers?
Delaney encouraged individuals to talk directly to their representatives (with in-person meetings and phone calls, especially – advice I’ve gotten along the way during this journey), to make their arguments in economic terms, and to have a “laserlike focus” when meeting with their representatives about a particular topic.

In all, though the meeting was brief, I found it to be a valuable opportunity to hear directly from my representative and to learn ways to engage most effectively with lawmakers. I was also pleasantly surprised at how accommodating Rep. Delaney’s office was regarding my request to meet: I was able to meet in person with him no more than two weeks after submitting my initial request. Most importantly, Rep. Delaney himself seemed pleased to meet face-to-face with a scientist who clearly took interest in the legislative process.

The take-home: don’t be afraid to call, email, or meet in person with your Representative! Your voice will be heard, and face-to-face meetings are not as intimidating as they may seem. If you don’t live in or near DC, you can schedule meetings with your representative when s/he is visiting their home district.

Dr Amanda Dettmer

Debating Animal Research in Australia

The Ethics Centre, an independent not-for-profit organisation in Australia, held its second IQ2 debate on the motion: “Animal rights should trump human interests“. Supporting the motion was shark attack survivor, Paul de Gelder, animal lawyer, Ruth Hatten, and philanthropist Philip Wollen. Opposing the motion was ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, Commissioner at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and primate researcher Professor James Bourne. See more about the speakers.

A vote was taken before and after, with a huge swing of over 30% of the audience switching over to “against” the motion, in part due to the wonderful speech by Prof Bourne. 

Opinions of audience at IQ2 debate on animal rights

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As an animal researcher, Prof James Bourne focused on the use of animals in medical and scientific research. He is the Group Leader at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and a Senior Fellow with the federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). James’ work with NHMRC is exploring regenerative therapies for babies with brain injuries. 

Below we produce a transcript (with permission) of his speech, which contributed to the massive swing in audience opinion.

Thank you, good evening.

Like many of you I am appalled at our age of factory farming, our wilful blindness to exploitation, our rampant self-interest as a species and the seemingly inevitable destruction of every sphere of our environment.

But like all scientists I am also an optimist.  I hold true that medical research using animal models, and let me be clear – experimenting on animals themselves – is necessary in many areas of medical research if humanity wishes to improve life – life for both humans and animals.

There are two points I am grateful to convey tonight:

  1. The use of some animals in medical research remains necessary. Remembering for every monkey in research over 4 million are used in the food and dairy industry.
  2. Medical research on animals should only occur within a regulated ethical framework directed at the welfare of the animal.

I find myself here tonight after a relatively sudden and unexpected journey that began recently when the scientific community in Australia heard of a Green’s private member’s Bill in the Senate seeking to ban the importation of non-human primates for research purposes.

As a scientist whose work utilises monkeys I knew that a ban on importation would lead very quickly to a level of in-breeding in Australian facilities that would render valuable research impossible and force it into countries known for their unregulated practices.

James Bourne at the IQ2 debate. Image from www.ethics.org.au

James Bourne at the IQ2 debate. Image from http://www.ethics.org.au

I was motivated to enter this political debate because despite the woes and wrongs of our contemporary age, reason is still the best chance humanity has to right those wrongs and improve our world.

Reason always comes off second-best in the face of fear and suspicion. Fear and suspicion characterises much of the debate about animals in research and is cloaked in deliberate and wilful misinformation.

Images of horrific animal experiments undertaken in the 50’s regularly feature today in animal rights literature, even though these experiments have been outlawed for many years.

The Bill, defeated as it was, recycled many myths about animal experimentation… dangerous myths that computers and petri dishes can replace animals, that experiments inflict unnecessary cruelty and suffering, that baby monkeys are every day being ripped out the arms of their dead mothers in the jungle by poachers and then traded through unregulated corrupt profiteering to end up being tortured by mad scientists addicted to outdated scientific models.

The fact that a proposal of this kind can even be seriously considered today is evidence that the scientific community has not only been cowed into burying its collective head, but as a body-politic we are only a few steps away from reverting to a darker age where the quality of life – for both humans and animals – will be considerably lessened.

Indeed, while humanity is making ever more incredible scientific advances, regular polling shows a growing and alarming public disagreement about basic scientific facts, including human evolution, the safety of vaccines and whether human-caused climate change is real.

But let me indulge here in some very recent examples of why I believe non-human primate research is important.

Recently researchers infected monkeys with the Zika virus because it is the closest scientist can get to understanding in real time what is happening when humans are infected with this virus.

In 2015, the world witnessed the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus to date. Monkeys were treated with an antibody isolated from a human Ebola survivor and developed almost complete protection against a lethal dose of Ebola.

And yet opponents of animal research argue that knowledge gained from monkey research is inapplicable to humans.  This claim is utterly and dangerously false. Anyone that argues that insights gained from animals are meaningless, is either poorly informed or knowingly untruthful.

The political reality, however, is that the imagery and language peddled by animal research opponents is utterly confronting.

The facts, if you care to accept them, are:

First, non-human primates used for research in Australia are sourced from regulated breeding facilities overseas. They are not taken from the jungle.

macaque monkey animal research israel

An example of an overseas primate breeding facility.

Second, All animal research in Australia is conducted under the strictest scrutiny and follows the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement known as the 3Rs. Under these principles, animal-based research is only approved by a qualified animal ethics committee, which includes members of the lay public, welfare organisations and veterinarians.

Third, Non-human primates are used only in exceptional circumstances – when no other model is possible – as a last resort – when finding an answer simply cannot be provided by another animal model, cell-based system, computer modelling or human experimentation.

While we make incredible advances every day in computer technology, there is currently, and unfortunately, no alternative approach that can replicate the vast complexity of human disorder and disease.  Researchers are, however, continuously looking for non-animal based alternatives and this has already led to a significant reduction in the number of non-human primates used in research in Australia.

Furthermore, every researcher understands the great duty of care they must apply. Minimising the risk of pain and distress is of utmost importance when designing a study.

However, researchers remain hesitant to speak out as history tells us that this can have significant repercussions on the individual and the research program. I fear with recent activist developments in Europe, global scientific advances in health have been retarded.

You might find my work abhorrent, but it is framed in the highest possible duty of care to the animal and it seeks to address critical challenges in global health. If we proceed down a path to banning animal research – it is not only the science that will suffer but also, more importantly, the patients who would have benefitted from the outcomes.

I believe in a utilitarian sense, much like our speakers tonight, that in suffering the animals are our equals.[1]

So I cannot, and never will, defend factory farming, zoos and circuses or horse and dog racing, but ask you to please consider that in the face of this determined movement to stop all animal experimentation to remind ourselves that animal based medical research is driven, in Australia, by compassion and that the motivation to understand and improve our world – for all life – should always triumph over suspicion and fear.

Thank you.

James Bourne

[1] Eminent Australian moral philosopher, Peter Singer (Animal Liberation, 1975), paraphrasing utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1802)

World Day to Talk About Animal Research in Belgium?

Kirk LeechToday we have a guest post from Kirk Leech, Executive Director of the European Animal Research Association (EARA), who explains how he is trying to encourage openness in Belgium.

The European Animal Research Association (EARA) was set up in March 2014 with the aim of helping to maintain and improve public acceptance and understanding of animal research. Belgium is one of the countries that we work in. Belgium, with a population of 11 million people, has a large number of private and public research institutions that undertake animal research. The latest figures as released separately by Belgium’s three regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, revealed that there were collectively 664,472 procedures on animals carried out in Belgium in 2014. Similar to other European countries, over 85% of procedures were carried out on mice, rats and fish.

Belgium has in the past had to deal with its fair share of criminal anti-animal research activity such as violence, arson, intimidation, ‘freeing’ of animals from laboratories and harassment. But, much like in most countries in the European Union, activism has shifted away from the use of direct criminality towards clever, often social media driven communications campaigns. Calendar events, such as World Day for Laboratory Animals April 24, have become important media opportunities for activist groups to promote their anti-research messages.

Every year on that day, activists organise demonstrations and petitions against animal research. Historically, pro-research institutions and researchers have struggled to respond to these events, often deciding not to comment. Unfortunately, this approach allows the activists to dominate any media coverage of the day, creating a one-sided negative narrative on animal research in the public mind. EARA decided to reverse the previous quiescence by research institutions on World Day for Laboratory Animals by collaborating with private and public research to pro-actively release a statement to the media on the benefits that animal research has brought in Belgium.

We invited public and private research organisations to a meeting to discuss the merits of an open and transparent approach toward communication about animal research. One of the practical steps we agreed on was a collective response to World Day for Laboratory Animals. The agreed statement, released before World Day for Lab Animals, explained the role of animals in research, and acknowledges the need for transparency and an open dialogue between science and the public. The statement was translated to Dutch and French for publication by the undersigned and circulation to the media.

The statement was signed by 24 Belgian public and private research organisations. Ten universities, eight private companies and six public institutes joined the initiative. It received extensive coverage in two major national newspapers. By standing united in their support for animal research, the signatory organisations could feel encouraged by their strength in numbers. On the side of anti-animal research activists, there were no demonstrations or protests to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals in Belgium aside from an ongoing online petition.

Signatories to the Belgian statement

Signatories to the Belgian statement

The Belgian collective response to World Day for Laboratory Animals was a historic event: on a day traditionally set up as an activists’ media opportunity, we brought together public and private research organisations from Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels to show a united front in support of animal research.

Together, they showed that they stand for open and transparent communication about animal research. They are committed to work for a public dialogue between science and society about why, when and how animals are used in research and about their important contribution to scientific and medical development. Compared to the United Kingdom, where openness has led to greater public acceptance of animal research, Belgium has a long way to go. To us, this statement is the start of a process to create a culture of openness about animal research in Belgium.

Kirk Leech