Strong Unions Needed
(June 8th, 2015) Animal research is necessary. But misconceptions in the public make the use of animal models increasingly difficult. What can be done to improve the reputation of animal research? The European Animal Research Association proposes a Unified Animal Research Network in Europe.
Biomedical research heavily relies on animals as model organisms. Whether you need to test a new medical compound or examine the role of a protein under physiological conditions – there is almost no way around in vivo experiments. However, our ethical understanding of animals implies that we have to handle them with care and avoid their use whenever possible.
Since 1959, scientists working with animals follow the 3R principle: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. In the EU, the Directive 2010/63/EU takes care of the “protection of animals used for scientific purposes”. This involves all establishments breeding or using animals in scientific procedures to set up an Animal Welfare Body and comply with the 3Rs. Currently the value of animal models is once again questioned. Just last week, the European Commission rejected the STOP VIVISECTION Initiative, demanding the immediate stop of animal research.
While activist groups unite and join their forces to put pressure on politics, research centres in Europe do not stand as one. The European Animal Research Association, EARA, based in London wants to change this. They aim to “uphold the interests of biomedical research and healthcare development across Europe by providing accurate and evidence-based information on the benefits of biomedical animal research”. In a recent Perspective article, they propose an Animal Research Network in Europe to better inform the public about research conducted on animals: When is it necessary, when is it authorised, what are the limits and protections in each specific case.
The Network could be similar to already established organisations in single countries. Groups like Pro-test Italia or actions of the Mario Negri Institute want to ensure that the public hears the researchers’ viewpoints, too. And it works, public acceptance of animal experiments in Italy rose from only 33% in 2012 to 49 % in 2014. Similar unions exist in Switzerland (Basel Declaration Society), the Netherlands (Stichting Informatie Dierproeven), France (Groupe Interprofessionnel de Réflexion et de Communication sur la Recherche) and the UK (Understanding Animal Research). In Germany, the Alliance of Science Organisations is planning to establish an advocacy organisation. These local organisations can help to counter misinformation as spread by, for instance, the Stop Vivisection Initiative.
“The benefits gained through individual animal research advocacy organisations can be amplified if a collective, clear response to activist pressure can be coordinated in Europe,” write Emma Martinez-Sanchez and Kirk Leech of EARA. Hence, EARA wants to help “coordinate local and national advocacy groups and to facilitate the establishment of new networks” to make sure that all sides, activists groups and researchers working with animals, have their say. EARA is a membership organisation, and research institutions that “share our concerns about the absence of an intelligent narrative to the public on the benefits of animal research” are encouraged to join.