The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ biennial survey of the public’s views on the use of animals in research, carried out by Ipsos MORI, indicates that the proportion of respondents agreeing to the statement “I can accept animal experimentation so long as it is for medical research purposes” has fallen from 66 per cent in 2012 in 2010 to 64 per cent in 2014.
The fall in that figure from 76 per cent in 2010 (at which level it had remained steady since 2002) prompted research organisations, funders and learned societies to commit to greater transparency about animal research, which culminated in the publication this year of the Concordat on Openness, launched in May.
The proportion of the public that do not support the use of animals in any experimentation has held steady at 32 per cent, compared with 39 per cent in 1999, when the surveys began. But just 22 per cent want the government to ban all animal experimentation: a figure which has hardly altered since 2002.
Awareness of efforts to find alternatives to animal use has declined, from per cent in 2012 to 15 per cent now. Public interest in animal research has declined, with the proportion of people agreeing that they are not interested in the issue rising from 12 per cent in 1999 and 16 per cent in 2012 to 19 per cent this year.
Confidence in the regulations surrounding animal research rose sharply between 1999 and 2005 and has remained steady since then. In 1999, just 29 per cent thought the rules were well enforced, compared with 50 per cent in 2014. But 65 per cent of respondents would not be surprised if some animal experimentation occurred without an official licence; in 1999 the figure was 88 per cent.
Trust in scientists not to cause unnecessary suffering to the animals being experimented on fell from 47 per cent in 2012 to 45 per cent now. This is the lowest score recorded since 2002, but still higher than 1999’s 29 per cent.
BIS has also published another Ipsos MORI survey of public attitudes to research in 2014, which uses similar but not identical questions and reaches similar conclusions.
It finds that the most commonly held public perception of organisations that use animals for UK scientific research is that they are “secretive” - cited by 44 per cent. Only 8 per cent regard them as “open”.