By Daniel Cressey
A who's who of the United Kingdom’s most respected life-sciences organizations has today signed a document committing them to be open about animal research.
In the so-called ‘concordat’, 72 organizations including universities, charities, industry and government funders say that they will provide more information about their work, engage more readily with media, and encourage more public discussion of animal research.
Dominic Wells, who studies neuromuscular diseases at the Royal Veterinary College in London and was heavily involved in drawing up the concordat, says that today’s announcement probably makes the United Kingdom “the most open place in the world” regarding animal research. “I do feel we’re leading the way on this,” he says.
Support for more transparency in animal research has gained ground in recent years, with many scientists hoping that better information about their work with animals and its goals will bring more public support. In 2010 researchers in Germany and Switzerland produced the Basel Declaration, pledging to be more open about their work. And the UK government earlier this month proposed to remove rules that prevent the Home Office from releasing much of the information it holds on animal research in the country.
But despite these moves towards openness, there has still been resistance from some institutions. Wells says that universities sometimes block their researchers from talking about their animal research in press conferences, and job advertisements avoid mentioning animal research. A key aim of today’s concordat is to change such practices.
The concordat comprises four commitments (see ‘Vow of non-silence’). It aims to put into practice a pledge made in 2012 by a number of UK life-sciences institutions, with detailed steps such as being realistic about the harms and limitations of animal research, releasing public statements on the use of animals in research and responding to “reasonable inquiries” about work undertaken or supported.
Although there is no mechanism for action against signatories who do not fulfil their obligations, a group will meet annually to review each signatory’s progress. Those who do not seem to be making progress could be named and shamed.
The document did not satisfy all anti-animal-research activists. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in London said in a statement that the concordat was “transparency on their terms” and that it would continue its undercover work, in which activists have infiltrated laboratories at Imperial College London and elsewhere.
Those supporting the concordat insist that it is a major advance. Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of the London-based group Understanding Animal Research, which campaigns in support of animal research and has worked on the concordat, says that there will be genuine change as a result.
“We have a broad spectrum of signatories here,” she told reporters in London. Some of them “have been open for many years and doing practically everything that’s in the concordat already. In some cases there are organizations who have signed up who know they have quite a way to go.”