October 21, 2012
Opinion Poll Shows Drop in UK Public Support for Animal Experiments
A new IpSoS MORI opinion poll commissioned by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, has revealed a significant decline in UK public support for experiments on live animals—the lowest support since 1999. This is warmly welcomed by Humane Society International as an encouraging sign that work by ourselves and others is having an impact on public awareness about the scientific and ethical issues surrounding animal testing and research.
HSI’s Science Team works around the globe with scientists from a range of disciplines, from biomedicine, neurology and oncology to pharmaceutical and chemical safety testing. In our experience, the vast majority of scientists readily acknowledge that there are scientific as well as ethical shortcomings with using animals. There is a vibrant community of bench-scientists around the world eagerly engaged in replacing outdated animal models with cutting-edge non-animal technologies. Experts in their field, they are developing the advanced techniques of tomorrow that will surpass the poor-performing animal studies of today.
Following the MORI poll publication, proponents of animal procedures announced a new “Concordat of Openness” by universities and institutes conducting animal research. A new spirit of openness would indeed be welcomed by HSI, but too often in the past when animal researchers have promised “openness” they have been reluctant to extend that to talking about the substantial failure rates of many animal models of human disease, or the disturbing reality of animal suffering. Without being honest about these things, there is no openness to speak of.
Virtually every independent systematic review conducted shows that animal experiments are poor predictors of outcomes in real human patients. Decades of over-reliance on animal models has left a legacy of delayed medical breakthroughs and failing drug discovery. Whilst there may be an active animal research lobby keen to sustain animal use, this new opinion poll indicates that the general public is becoming less convinced by their dogmatic resistance to change and unwillingness to embrace the powerful advances that modern science has to offer.
Innovative and human-relevant research advances are taking place amidst an impressive biotechnology revolution. Compared to the super-fast advanced research techniques of modern science, experimenting on live animals seems positively primitive.
At a recent European Parliament event in Brussels, Humane Society International launched a major new report, Advancing Safety Science and Health Research with Innovative, Non-Animal Tools, calling for the European Union and the United States to form a groundbreaking transatlantic research partnership to support the development of cutting-edge non-animal techniques. This kind of “big biology” project is required if we are to reap the human health, time and cost rewards of non-animal approaches. Our event also included presentations from Unilever, the U.S Food and Drug Administration, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the University of Copenhagen, and the European arm of the Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing.
Back in July, a group of scientists including HSI’s CEO Dr Andrew Rowan, wrote an open letter to the UK Government urging Britain to play a leading role in establishing the European Union as a world leader in human-relevant research development. The EU’s Horizon 2020 research funding programme, aimed at supporting “science excellence and innovation” represents a majorly important opportunity for the EU to step up to the plate and channel investment into emerging and future alternative technologies.
Writing to the UK’s Home Office, the university scientists reflected:
“Novel non-animal and alternative techniques in biomedical research and safety testing can often represent the nature and progression of human illness or real-world reactions to substances, more realistically than their animal counterpart. For many of the signatories to this letter, our pursuit of the Three Rs—Replacing, Reducing and Refining animal experiments—is driven by a desire to develop new and better approaches to researching human illness, medical research innovations with the potential to bring about huge societal benefits by improving the speed, reliability and human-relevance of the tools we use to unlock answers to biomedical questions... Whilst there remains much vibrant and vital debate within the scientific community about the efficacy of animal use in general or certain animal models in particular, there can be no doubt that we scientists will be better equipped to tackle the major human and environmental health challenges we face in the twenty-first century, if there is increased funding and support available for the development of sophisticated human-relevant research approaches.”
Watch HSI’s new video about our global programme to replace animal experiments with non-animal alternatives.