More than 80 per cent of the general public still suspect that scientific animal experiments are conducted behind closed doors without an official licence, according to a MORI poll published this week.
The survey findings, published to mark the launch of the Coalition for Medical Progress, fly in the face of the fact that the UK has the toughest animal experimentation licensing laws in the world.
Indeed, the survey found that more than nine out of ten people know little or nothing at all about how research is controlled.
The coalition, launched on Tuesday, aims to provide a single voice to engage with the public, explaining the case for medical progress and the benefits brought about by animal research.
Members include the Association of Medical Research Charities, the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Biosciences Federation. It is hoped that more organisations will join in the near future.
Philip Connolly, director of the coalition, told The THES : "Many scientists are very nervous about talking about animal research. We hope that on the back of a coalition they will feel they could speak out without sticking their heads above the parapet."
Mr Connolly said the suspicion that the public was staunchly anti-animal experimentation was not accurate. He felt people needed more information about the subject. The survey says that 90 per cent of the public accept the case for animal experiments as long as certain conditions are met.
These conditions include high welfare standards, avoidance of suffering and the use of non-animal methods where available.
Mr Connolly said: "One of the differences about the coalition is we want to focus on what the public say they are concerned about, rather than just shouting through a megaphone from a particular perspective."
The survey also found that the use of genetically modified rats and mice was considered much less acceptable than that of natural rats and mice. But the research team felt that this was just a reflection of general public wariness of genetic modification.
In its final report last July, the House of Lords select committee on the use of animals in scientific procedures raised concerns about the level of bureaucracy within the UK licensing system.