Pledge by universities on animal research
More than 40 scientific organisations, including 15 universities, have pledged to be more open about the animal research they carry out in the wake of an opinion poll indicating declining public support for the use of animals in research.
The poll, conducted for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills by Ipsos Mori, found that 85 per cent of the UK public support the use of animals in research subject to certain conditions. However, that figure has fallen from 90 per cent in 2010.
The proportion of people who support animal use specifically in medical research has fallen from 76 to 66 per cent.
The percentage of people who do not support any animal experimentation has risen steadily from 29 per cent in 2006 to 37 per cent in 2012. Meanwhile, 40 per cent said they would like more information before forming a firm opinion.
Universities, research funders and pharmaceutical companies have responded by publishing a joint declaration pledging to embrace an "ongoing conversation" with the public about "why and how animals are used in research and the benefits of this".
They aim to publish a "concordat" within the next few months to "develop the principles of openness, practical steps and measurable objectives which will underpin a more transparent approach to animal research".
The campaign will be led by the charity Understanding Animal Research. Its chair, Frances Balkwill, centre lead at Queen Mary, University of London's Centre for Cancer and Inflammation, speculated that public support for animal research might have waned because the issue had been out of the public spotlight in recent years.
However, she also admitted universities had been reluctant to speak about animal research due to intimidation by animal rights extremists. For that reason, she was encouraged that 15 universities - including Imperial College London and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge - had already signed the pledge.
"It is not about shouting about [animal research], but being open when it is part of the story of science," she said.
Universities and science minister David Willetts also pledged his support for the campaign, and said the government could help by emphasising that the rules governing animal research in the UK were among the tightest in the world.
Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said the concordat would set out "roles and responsibilities" relating to the campaign, but said it was "just a start". He also encouraged other universities who had not been immediately approached to add their names to the list of signatories.
He suggested that practical measures - which will be set out in the concordat - could include "scientists talking about animal research and [providing] the opportunity for people to see what goes on in animal houses".
"The environment of intimidation hasn't gone away but there is something about safety in numbers," he added.
• Read the pledge and the list of signatories here: http://bit.ly/RMrZ3d