RSPCA: Polls highlight public unease over animal experiments

Support for animal experiments at lowest level since 2002

The RSPCA believes that the results of two new polls commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should stimulate more determined efforts to end animal use and suffering in experiments.

The surveys (published today – 4 September) were carried out in March by Ipsos Mori and show a continuing overall decline in public support for animal experiments – now at the lowest level since 2002. 

Close to a third (32%) of people in the UK state that they do not support the use of animals in any experimentation because of the importance they place on animal welfare.

Although around 68% say they can agree with some use of animals in experiments, this comes with three major caveats: it should be for the purpose of medical research; there should be ‘no alternative’; and there should be no unnecessary suffering.

RSPCA chief scientific officer Dr Maggy Jennings OBE said:  “These results reveal the public’s deep-seated and persistent concerns for animals who suffer in the name of science – concerns which are shared by the RSPCA.”

More must be done to reduce animal use and suffering

Given this, it is unsurprising that the public wants more to be done to reduce animal use.  More than three quarters (78%) of people say there should be more research into humane alternatives to animal experiments, and almost half (47%) believe that ‘scientists could do more to reduce the suffering of animals that are still used.’  The RSPCA strongly agrees with both of these opinions.

Furthermore, 61% think there might be unnecessary duplication of research; only 24% think that in practice ‘scientific research is carried out on animals only where there is no alternative’; and just 16% believe that organisations using animals in the UK for scientific research ‘stick to good animal welfare standards’.

Maggy continued:  “Lobbyists for the research community argue that everything possible is done to keep animal use and suffering to a minimum, yet in the past decade there has been a massive increase in the numbers of animals used.  There has also been increasing acknowledgment that many experiments are poorly designed and of questionable value, which means that animals have – without doubt – suffered unnecessarily.

A robust system of regulation

It is particularly noteworthy that 34% of people asked in the survey state that they ‘do not trust the regulatory system around the use of animals in scientific research’, with only 35% believing that ‘the rules in the UK on scientific research involving animals are well enforced.’ 

Maggy said:  “The public is absolutely right to be concerned.  They expect strong controls on animal experiments that are robustly enforced.  However, in recent years there have been worrying reductions in the number of Home Office Inspectors, who oversee compliance with the law.  Their resources are currently stretched to the limit.”

She concluded:  “The Coalition Government made a commitment to reduce the use of animals in research, producing a Delivery Plan earlier this year.  The results of this survey should leave them in no doubt that large sectors of the public – and the RSPCA – will be waiting to hold them to account if the plan fails.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The poll results are available at http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1695/Attitudes-to-animal-research-in-2014.aspx