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expert reaction to latest BIS/Mori poll on public attitudes to animal research

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills along with Ipsos MORI published a report on public awareness of, and attitudes towards animal research.


Professor Jackie Hunter, CEO of BBSRC, said:

“It is important that any misconceptions around animal research, such as the belief that cosmetics are still tested on animals in the UK, are addressed. BBSRC is committed to openness in animal research and will continue to highlight the importance of its role in the work that we fund wherever possible. BBSRC funds animal research only where it can be justified and actively funds and encourages researchers to look for opportunities to reduce the number of animals used in research. BBSRC also funds a wide range of research projects that directly benefit animals, such as animal health and welfare, as well as funding the exploration of alternatives to animal research where this is potentially feasible. One example of this is in the recent funding call in bovine TB research.”


Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs, said:

“Yet again the poll shows that public support for animal research is conditional on the implementation of methods that minimise the use of animals and any suffering caused to them. The UK has an active community of scientists committed to replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research and hopefully the poll will remind others of the importance of engaging in this agenda.”


Dr Frances Rawle, Head of Policy at the Medical Research Council said:

“In the past, many scientists were understandably afraid of talking about their use of animals, but the climate has very much changed. We encourage our researchers to be open about this work because it’s important that the public – the patients who benefit from research and the taxpayers who contribute to funding it – are aware that research using animals is still an important and very necessary part of medical science.  The UK should be proud of its record on animal research – we have some of the strictest regulations in the world at the same time as producing some of the highest quality science. Just last week, we learned that researchers had developed the first fully-functioning artificial organ from cells made in the lab. This work was done in mice but brought forward the prospect that researchers may one day be able to develop human organs using a similar technique.”


Professor Paul Bolam, Parkinson’s UK funded researcher , said:

“These results reveal that the public still have a lack of trust in the regulations surrounding animals in research. It’s important people are aware of the strict Home Office rules in place for researchers carrying out animal research. In our lab animal welfare is the top priority, and we treat the animals in our studies to find a cure for Parkinson’s with the utmost respect and care.”


Stephen Whitehead, ABPI Chief Executive, said:

“It is encouraging to see that a significant majority of the public surveyed accept the use of animals in scientific research in the UK where there is no alternative and that there is an appetite from the public to find out more about the ongoing work taking place to find alternatives to using animals.  The principles of the 3Rs are embedded in industry research & development and the pharmaceutical industry has worked in collaboration 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 breaking new ground in scientific, ethical, and regulatory advancements. It is important that we continue to share the outputs of this collaboration to increase the awareness of efforts to find alternatives to the use of animals.  The survey identifies a priority for organisations to listen and respond to questions on animal research so that low awareness doesn’t fuel misconceptions.  The ABPI and many of its member companies have signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research and we are committed to being more open, transparent and accountable for the research that we conduct, fund and support. As part of our commitment, we will better explain why animal research is necessary and inform the public about the high standards of laboratory animal welfare we adhere to and the vital role animal research plays in the development of medicines, which has saved countless lives.”


Steve Bates, Chief Executive Office at the BioIndustry Association (BIA), said:

“Animal research is an essential part of developing medicines. It’s good to see that the majority of the British public understand this and accept there is a  need to test medicines appropriately in animals before conducting clinical trials with human volunteers and patients. However, a large proportion of the population still feels that they are not well informed about animal research, which is demonstrated by the fact that 50% of people mistakenly believe that animal research is carried out without any oversight.

“In fact animal research in the UK is very carefully regulated, and so is medicine development. We have among the highest standards in the world for animal welfare, and – as over 80 organisations have shown by signing the Concordat on Openness – the sector is committed to addressing this need by being open about the use of animals in research so that the public can develop informed views on this important topic.”


Professor Dominic Wells, FSB (Society of Biology), Chair of the Animal Sciences Group, says:

“The continued public support for the use, when necessary, of animals in humane experimental research is an important finding of this poll. It is also clear that there is an appetite for more information on this issue, and there is a need for accurate information to dispel misapprehensions. The widespread support within the science community to adopt the Concordat on Openness will ensure that more information on the uses and consequences of animal research is more readily available.”

“More information on how research is regulated is also vital. It was surprising that 50% of the public agree with the statement that ‘Scientific research involving animals sometimes goes on without an official licence’. In the UK, research using animals is regulated by the Home Office and can only be performed with a comprehensive license after training. Proposed experiments are subject to ethical review at the application stage and regular review thereafter. Replacing, refining and reducing animal use in research (the 3Rs) has been a cornerstone in UK practice for some time. The new drive towards greater openness will illuminate this and offer opportunities for debate and presentation of animal research information that will meet a public need.”


Nicola Perrin, Head of Policy at the Wellcome Trust, said:

“These results show that the majority of the public continue to support the use of animals in research where it is used to improve human and animal health and where no alternatives are available. However, we need to address the misconceptions that still exist around how and why animal experiments take place. In the UK, animal research is highly regulated, and the biomedical research community need to take every opportunity to explain this. Research using animals, like all research, should proceed with the consent of society, and our challenge is to make relevant information as accessible as possible.”


Attitudes to animal research. A long term survey of public views 1999-2014. A report for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.


Declared interests

Dr Frances Rawle has shares in pharmaceutical companies (GSK and AstraZeneca)

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