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U.K. Organizations Agree to Greater Transparency on Animal Research

In May 2014, over 70 scientific research organizations in the U.K. launched an agreement to improve transparency about their usage of animals for research [1]. Organizations that signed the agreement include large pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, universities such as Cambridge and Oxford, and other scientific organizations. The agreement resulted from the 2012 “Declaration of Openness on Animal Research,” in which organizations involved in the life sciences pledged to create a plan towards improving communication about their use of animals for scientific, medical and veterinary research.

The resulting agreement, “Concordat on Openness on Animal Research,” entails four commitments: that signatories will be “clear about when, how and why” they use animals in research; improve communications with the media and public; “be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals”; and annually report on progress [2]. Each commitment contains specific steps on how the organizations can put the declarations into practice.

Animal rights organizations are dissatisfied with the agreement. They claim that the concordant will accomplish little towards protecting animal research subjects and only serves as a public relations maneuver. “This concordat presents a veneer of openness but it’s actually just another platform for obscuring the unpalatable truth about animal experiments,” said Wendy Higgins, communications director of the Humane Society International [3]. “It is simply transparency on their terms with researchers having complete control over what the public gets to see,” writes Michelle Thew, Chief Executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) [4].

The concordat argues that though scientists are actively developing alternatives, animals still play a vital role in research. The signatories hope to educate the public on the reality of animal research so individuals can build informed opinions on whether or not they support the practice. “We believe that the Concordat will give its signatories the opportunity to come together to share and promote good practice in being open about animal research and in providing the public with better insights into the reasons for, methods of, and progress resulting from, the use of animals in research.”

Animal research in the U.K. is regulated by the Animals in Science Regulation Unit of the Home Office (ASRU). Organizations using animals for research are required to follow the three “R”s, namely, replacing animals with alternatives when possible, reducing the number of animals used, and refining techniques to mitigate both physical and psychological suffering. This concordant is part of an ongoing conflict between science organizations and animal rights activists over the ethics of the use of animals for research.

[1] http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39999/title/More-Openness-on-Lab-Animals/

[2] http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/assets/document/F50071CB-EA9F-3B85-F2849E78AE6DDE7C/concordat-on-opennes.pdf

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27411472

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/michelle-thew/buav-calls-concordat-open_b_5321630.html


This article is part of the Spring 2014 issue of Professional Ethics Report (PER). PER, which has been in publication since 1988, reports on news and events, programs and activities, and resources related to professional ethics issues, with a particular focus on those professions whose members are engaged in scientific research and its applications.