Press release

Public attitudes to animal testing

Survey results show that the British public accept the use of animals in scientific (medical) research ‘where there is no alternative’.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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The results of a survey published today (4 September 2014) by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills show that a majority of the British public accept the use of animals in scientific (medical) research ‘where there is no alternative’.

Of the 969 respondents questioned, 68% agreed that they can accept the use of animals in research for medical purposes where there are no alternatives – such as using computer modelling, in vitro testing or MRI scanning.

Results also revealed that 60% accepted the use of animals in research to help our understanding of the human body and 64% accepted use to increase understanding of animal health, where no alternative exists. Around half agreed that animals should only be used in medical research into ‘life-threatening or debilitating diseases’.

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said:

Animal research is currently essential to help deliver life-changing and life-saving new medicines for conditions such as dementia, cancer and heart disease. The results of this survey show that the majority of people accept this, but that there is room for improvement on openness and transparency within the field.

I support the recent steps taken by the life sciences sector to increase peoples’ understanding of why and how animals are used in research, and for the on-going effort to develop alternatives to the use of animals, where possible.

The biennial survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI, investigated public awareness of, and attitudes towards, the use of animals in scientific research, as well as the possible alternatives. It is an important tool to improve government understanding of public attitudes to the use of animals in research, but also identify and tackle the myths that still circulate.

For instance 3 in 10 respondents (31%) believed cosmetics’ testing on animals is still allowed in the UK – which has not been the case for over 15 years. It is banned across the whole of the European Union. In addition, only 7% of respondents said that they know ‘a fair amount or a great deal about the UK government’s work to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research’.

The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research, published on 14 May 2014, brought together an unprecedented number of organisations across the UK life sciences sector, to work together on openness and improve public engagement around the issue of animal research.

Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive, Understanding Animal Research added:

Practically every medicine and surgical treatment that we and our pets benefit from today have been developed and tested using animal research. It is heartening that such a large majority of the British public can accept the use of animals in research. But what this survey also shows is that much more needs to be done to help people understand the realities of animal research in the 21st century: that cosmetic testing has been banned since 1998, for example, and that since 1986 it has been illegal to use an animal if there is a viable alternative. Since this survey was carried out, more than 80 organisations involved in animal research in the UK have committed to being more open about their use of animals, and this can only help to increase public understanding of this small but crucial part of UK science.

Facts:

  • There is a strong scientific case for the carefully regulated use of animals in medical research and it is a legal requirement for every new prescription medicine to be tested on animals before it is tested and used in people
  • Cosmetics testing has been banned in the UK since 1998, and is now not allowed anywhere in the EU. No cosmetics sold in the UK have been tested on animals
  • Most animal research is carried out in universities although private companies also do some testing, there are many reasons for this, including to ensure that drugs are safe enough to be trialled in humans, but a lot of research is done to understand more about how the body works
  • 98% of research is carried out on rats, mice and fish. Less than 0.5% of research is carried out on dogs, cats and monkeys
  • if research can be done with an alternative rather than an animal then the alternative must be used

Notes for editors

  1. The full report can be viewed on the Ipsos MORI website where pdf versions can also be found:
  2. 969 adults from across Great Britain aged 15+ were interviewed in-home between 7-13 March 2014. The data have been ‘weighted’ by gender, age, region, ethnicity, working status and social class - to reflect the known 15+ population profile of Great Britain. ‘Weighting’ is a statistical process – conducted after the completion of interviewing, at the analysis stage to ensure that the sample has exactly the same demographic cross-section or profile as does the wider population (and is therefore a reliable basis for representing the views of that wider population – in this case adults aged 15+ living in Great Britain). For example, of those people interviewed for this survey 18% were aged 15-24. In fact around 16% of the equivalent GB population profile is aged 15-24. This group has therefore been marginally ‘down-weighted’ from 18% to 16% of the survey sample to help ensure that it has exactly the correct degree of statistical influence within the overall results. This is a widespread practice in opinion research among the general public, and when used – as here – as the ‘fine-tuning’ of an already broadly representative sample it gives a greater degree of representativeness.
  3. The research carried out for this project has been in compliance with the Market Research Society (MRS) / ESOMAR Code, the Data Protection Act, and ISO 20252.
  4. The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research which is now signed by 81 organisations from across the scientific sector was published in May 2014. It sets out a commitment to helping the public understand more about animal research.
  5. It is important for government to understand public attitudes to the use of animals in research, how this shapes our policies, and how this might impact the lawful activities of regulated research organisations. Therefore BIS is funding this research to provide an evidence base for future policy and engagement strategies.
Published 4 September 2014