Tag Archives: Humane Research Australia

Change, slow but steady

IMG_2408s

How can we tell whether public opinions are changing? How can we tell whether views on particular issues have changed compared to some time ago? As animal advocates, our aim is to achieve change to policies, regulation and legislation that improves the lives of animals. Changing public opinion alone can make a difference to the lives of animals – when, for example, consumers stop buying the eggs of caged hens -, and it is essential to achieve regulatory and legal change.

Surveys and polls are a common way of gauging public views on political and social issues. They are important tools to monitor and evaluate animal advocacy, and provide direction for future strategies.

So what do we know about awareness of and views on animal experimentation, and whether they are changing?

Overseas surveys tell us that the public’s views on animal experimentation are changing:

  • a Pew Research Center survey from 2015 in the U.S. informed us that approximately equal numbers of people favour and oppose the use of animals in scientific research (47% vs 50% respectively), while the vast majority of scientists (89%) favour animal research, a difference of 42 percentage points.
  • a Gallup poll in 2015 found that a third of Americans want animals to have same rights as people (compared to 25% in 2008), while 62% said animals deserve some protection but can still be used for the benefit of humans.
  • A 2017 Gallup poll in the U.S. found a 51% acceptance of medical testing on animals, a decreased acceptance rate compared to polls in previous years.
  • In an Ipsos MORI 2016 poll in the UK, 65% (compared to 68% in 2014) of people said they could accept the use of animals in research as long as it is for medical purposes, and there is no alternative.
  • In Germany in 2017, a Forsa poll found 71% of respondents in favour of a ban on painful animal experiments, while 23% did not consider such a ban necessary.

In Australia, the results from a survey commissioned by Humane Research Australia (HRA) have just come in: Nexus Research surveyed 1,006 people in April 2018. The sample was quota controlled by age and gender, and selected in proportion to the population aged 16+ years in each State/Territory. A survey of this size is considered sufficient as a representative sample of the Australian population, with an error margin of around ±3%. More information about the survey can be found on the HRA website.

Taking small samples from large populations is a valid statistical technique for getting accurate information about the wider population, for a fraction of the time and cost.

HRA commissioned similar surveys in 2008 and 2013. Below are some of the findings, comparing how people’s awareness and views changed over the 10 years since the first survey.

Awareness

Awareness of animal research has changed over the years. While in 2013 only 57% of people were aware of animals being used in research, this increased to 71% in 2018. In the latest survey, people under the age of 30 and those with an income between $80,000-$120,000 had the highest awareness of animal research (both 79%).

awareness of AR.jpg

In 2013 and 2018, people were asked whether they were aware that monkeys and other non-human primates are used in medical research in Australia. The vast majority of respondents were not aware of this (91% in 2013, 82% in 2018). On the other hand, over the last five years the number of people who know that non-human primates are used in laboratories has doubled from 9% to 18%.

In the last survey, a new question was added: ‘Do you consider that our governments provide sufficient information to understand the extent of animal experimentation in Australia?’ About the same proportion as those who were not aware of primate research answered this question with ‘no’ (81%).

Positions against animal experimentation are typically based on two arguments: ethical considerations that deem inflicting suffering on sentient beings as morally wrong, and/or scepticism about the scientific validity of animal experimentation. Both were explored in the surveys.

Ethical concerns

Do humans have the moral right to experiment on animals? In all three surveys, more than half of the respondents did not believe this, and a significant proportion was unsure. More men than women (31% vs 15%) and more people aged 70+ than people under 30 years (34% vs 21%) believed that humans have the right to experiment on animals. People living in households with pets expressed a much stronger view against animal experiments than those who did not live with pets (64% vs 53%), while the latter expressed greater indecision (13% vs 22%).

moral right to exp

To gain more nuanced views, questions were asked about the purpose of research and the species of animals used. About three in four people opposed the use of animals for developing household products and cosmetics testing in all three surveys. Interestingly, this proportion decreased slightly over the 10-year period, while the proportion of those opposed to basic/scientific research, teaching/educational purposes and developing pharmaceuticals for people (medicines/tablets) rose slightly. A question about environmental research was only asked in 2018.

oppose use for of AR

People do not feel as strongly for rodents (mice and rats) and rabbits as they do for dogs and non-human primates. While concern for all four species increased slightly over the years, half as many people opposed research on rodents compared to dogs.

oppose by species

The level of discomfort and pain inflicted on animals also influenced people’s views: the more painful the procedures, the greater the opposition to animal research (2018: from 33% to 72%).

oppose by level of pain

Overall, more women than men expressed ethical concerns, as did younger people (<30) compared to older people (>70), and people who live in households with pets compared to those who do not.

Transferability

All three surveys asked respondents about their views on the transferability of results from animals to humans. However, the wording of the question changed in the 2018 survey:

‘Do you believe or not believe that it is always safe to transfer results from animal research (e.g. from rabbits, mice, rats and dogs) to apply to humans?’ (2008 and 2013)

‘Do you believe that it is safe to transfer results from animal research (e.g. from rabbits, mice, rats and dogs) to apply to humans?’ (2018)

The change in wording might explain the significant increase in the number of people who believed that results from animals apply to humans (2008: 14%, 2013: 13%, 2018: 35%). About a third of respondents were unsure. In 2018, significantly more men than women (42% vs 29%) and older people aged 70+ compared to those aged under 30 years (50% vs 31%) believed that it is safe to transfer results from animal research to apply to humans.

transferability

Alternatives

In 2018, people were asked whether they were ‘aware of any current alternatives instead of using animals in research for human medicines. Only 20% responded that they were aware of such alternatives.

It is no surprise then, that the vast majority of respondents favoured ‘allocating a proportion of medical research grants to finding scientific alternatives to animal experiments’, although this support decreased over the years from 79% to 67%. I have no explanation for this trend.

Change, more change

To my knowledge, this Nexus survey is the only of its kind in Australia. How sure can we be that it describes accurately Australians’ opinions about animal experimentation? Nexus Research recruited survey participants from a panel. While there have been concerns expressed about this type of recruitment, ‘the quality of the answers obtained from online panels does not seem to be worse than that from more traditional methods of data collection and, in some cases, may be better.’ So, for the time being, this is the best we have.

As the president of Humane Research Australia I’d like to think that our work has contributed to greater awareness of animal research and increasing compassion with the animals used in laboratories. It is clear that the public wants accurate and comprehensive information about animal research. It is also clear that the public needs to be better informed about alternatives to animal research. Without such knowledge, how can people develop informed views and considered moral judgment about animal research?

 

Advertisements

Will you support us?

Are you already a member of Humane Research Australia (HRA)? If so, I invite you to renew your membership. It’s only $30 pa. If you are not a member, would you consider becoming one?

I started this blog 3 ½ years ago. I’m the president of HRA, and while I’ve mentioned HRA in some of my blog posts, I haven’t dedicated a whole post to HRA. So this is what we do and what we want to achieve:

Here in Australia, the use of animals in research is very high for such a small country. Only the USA, Japan and China use more animals. We want to see animal experimentation phased out and replaced by humane and human-relevant methods.

Why do we want this? We can’t be sure that insights gained from experiments with animals will be applicable in humans. Animals are not reliable models for human disease. For example, cancer was cured in mice decades ago, but the results didn’t translate to humans. Sadly, scientists know more about mice than humans. Animal research involves many procedures that would be regarded as animal abuse if carried out on our pets. Even when no painful procedures are carried out, the animals are usually kept captive in artificial environments that do not allow for species-specific behaviours. It is a sad situation, both for the lab animals who suffer stress and pain, and for people who miss out on treatments and cures because the research is not relevant to humans.

Many people still think animal experimentation is a necessary evil. But research articles pointing to the many shortcomings of animal research are accumulating*.

So what does HRA do? Below are some of the activities and achievements over the last 12 months.

Campaigns

The Ban Primate Experiments campaign has highlighted the use of non-human primates in invasive, cruel experiments. The macaques, marmosets and baboons involved in these experiments are bred in three government-funded facilities in Australia. While these sentient animals are genetically and cognitively similar to us, they are sufficiently different for primate experiments to result in research findings of little value to humans.

I and another member of HRA’s committee of management (Dr Eleonora Gullone) were signatories to an open letter asking to stop neuroscience research involving non-human primates. It was signed by 22 scientists, primatologists and animal welfare experts, among them Sir David Attenborough and Dr Jane Goodall.

Following a campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and HRA, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) announced earlier this year that it will phase out the use of live animals for its Early Management of Severe Trauma (EMST) program by 2018. EMST trains physicians and Australian Defence Force (ADF) medical officers on treating traumatic injuries. To date, the training involves cutting holes into the throats, chests, and limbs of live animals including dogs and pigs. This will be replaced by human-simulation technology.

Earlier this month the Australian Government introduced a bill to ban animal testing of cosmetic products. This is a result of campaigning by animal welfare groups around the country, and including HRA and Humane Society International’s Be Cruelty Free Campaign.

Case studies

It is difficult for the public to find out exactly what experiments are conducted on animals. Universities and other research institutions are reluctant to provide detail. Not all animal research is published in professional journals. When it is published, the articles are often behind a pay wall and written in a way that does not make much sense to the lay person. HRA has summarised some of these studies in plain English.

These scenarios are not only highly unethical; they are unscientific. Data cannot be extrapolated from one species to another with certainty of success.

We need to challenge the researchers and the funding bodies and encourage them to embrace new technologies – non-animal methodologies that are both more humane and scientifically-valid as they relate specifically to human conditions. This is the critical role of HRA. It’s imperative that the community and HRA supporters particularly, are aware of what is happening and what they can do to help stop it.

Over the last year, the Australian media have reported on cruel experiments. Some of these reports have been re-published in other countries. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald reported about cruel greyhound experiments at Monash University and the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where the dogs were suffocated and had their hearts removed. Those hearts were then transplanted into other greyhounds who were killed after the procedure.

Animal use statistics

Unlike many other countries, Australia does not have a national collection of animal use data. HRA attempts to make up for this absence of data. The states and territories collect these data, but not all states make them available. HRA collects the available data, publishes them on its website, and provides an estimate of the total number of animals used for research and teaching in Australia. For 2015 this number was close to 10 million animals (this also includes environmental studies where animals were observed rather than experimented on).

Submissions

HRA writes submissions to government bodies, encourages its members and the public to write submissions, and provides background information to assist with submission writing. At present, the proposed Code of Practice for the Keeping of Racing Greyhounds (in Victoria) is open for public comment until 14 August 2017.

This is not all we do. For example, we also lobby the federal government and funding agencies to redirect funding away from animal experimentation and instead provide financial incentives to researchers to develop alternatives to animals. This lobbying takes considerable time and resources. We need your financial support to continue this work, and your assistance to help us to do this is greatly appreciated.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter , or subscribe to our e-news to learn more about our work.

Here is a video of me (and my best mate Sheba) asking you to support us in the important work we do to end cruel and unnecessary animal experiments. If you have a look at the video, you’ll see that we don’t waste money on media production. It was done in-house, in the HRA office, with our multi-talented CEO Helen Marston directing, filming and editing.

Unlike many other charities, HRA does not have DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient) status – because our work is not classified as public benevolent, and does not involve “hands on” care of animals. This means that we do not qualify for many philanthropic grants that are available and which many charities depend on for their continued work. It also means that we are unable to take advantage of various other schemes such as workplace giving as these also require DGR status.

Furthermore, we do not receive ANY government funding. We are therefore solely reliant on memberships and donations to fund the important work that we undertake towards ending cruel and unnecessary animal experiments.

Thank you for reading this, and I’m more than happy to respond to any questions and/or suggestions.

* On the HRA website, we have dedicated a page to links to academic papers, conference proceedings and government reports that show animals as bad models for human medicines and treatments. Search for “bias” (without the quotation marks) on this web page.

 

Why so secret?

Source: Flickr/ @Doug88888

Source: Flickr/ @Doug88888

Two days ago the Sydney Morning Herald published an article titled “Baboons used in ‘Frankenstein-like’ medical experiments”. Yesterday it was followed by an editorial – “Medical testing on primates: more openness and transparency needed” – and another article, also on the topic of research on non-human primates, “Thousands sign petition urging an end importing of primates for medical research”. Numerous online media have republished the “Frankenstein” article and people have taken to social media to comment.

During a six-month investigation, journalist Natalie O’Brien uncovered medical experiments on non-human primates, secretly conducted at a number of Sydney hospitals and universities, including a kidney transplant from a pig to a baboon. O’Brien writes that

Millions of dollars of research grants are being used for a variety of experiments but the hospitals involved have refused to release details about how many baboons or other primates have been experimented on, and how many have died or had to be killed.

NSW Health also denied a whole organ transplant had taken place, despite details emerging of Conan, a baboon who had to be killed because of fatal complications arising from the insertion of a pig’s kidney into his body.

In response to a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request NSW Health had denied that diabetes research involved whole organ transplants, while the NHMRC acknowledged in writing that it has funded research for “whole organ animal to animal xenotransplantation”.

Meanwhile, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has introduced a Bill to end the import of primates for medical research. A Senate inquiry into the importation of primates into Australia for use in medical research is due to be published in March. And Humane Research Australia has handed a petition with more than 14,000 signatures calling for a ban on importing primates for medical and scientific research to the Federal Parliament.

The main issues that the articles are concerned with are the secrecy and the ethics of this research. Reliability of the animal model is another concern.

Why have these experiments been conducted secretly, as they are entirely legal? Being legal and being accepted by the public are not the same. Indeed, the law is often lagging behind views that many, if not most citizens have come to regard as acceptable and/or desirable. Examples are marriage equality and voluntary euthanasia.

The procedures performed on animals in biomedical research would anywhere other than in licensed laboratories considered to be animal cruelty, punishable by law.

The RSPCA defines animal cruelty as follows:

Animal cruelty can take many different forms. It includes overt and intentional acts of violence towards animals, but it also includes animal neglect or the failure to provide for the welfare of an animal under one’s control. In addition to this, it is important to remember animal cruelty is not restricted to cases involving physical harm. Causing animals psychological harm in the form of distress, torment or terror may also constitute animal cruelty.

Given that animals share with us the ability to suffer, it is not surprising that many people find animal experiments abhorrent. Researchers tend to keep invasive animal experiments out of public view, usually for fear of negative press or harassment. But every now and then animal advocates and journalists manage to find out about particularly gruesome instances of animal experimentation and make them public. The monkey research reported in the recent articles is such an example, and it has generated condemnation and questions about what else goes on behind closed doors.

But is the secrecy justified? Isn’t it understandable that researchers are fearful of the consequences of being open about the details of animal research? Recent experience from the UK tells us that greater transparency has NOT resulted in negative consequences for researchers and their institutions.

The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK was launched in May 2014. It is a collaboration of now 98 universities, charities, commercial companies, research councils, umbrella bodies and learned societies with a common aim:

The aim of the Concordat is culture change within the life-science sector, and a resulting shift to greater societal understanding of why and how research organisations use animals in science. The Concordat creates a shared commitment and critical mass to encourage organisations to take strategic and practical steps towards greater openness.

Following a survey of signatory institutions, the first Concordat on Openness Annual Report was published in September 2015. The survey found no reports of any adverse consequences for those organisations that provided the public with more information about their research than they had previously done.

When the Concordat was developed there was considerable concern cited about the risks of openness, and a fear that transparency would bring researchers into physical danger. The information provided by signatory institutions about their communications activities since May 2014 indicates clearly that this has not been the case. The success of many initiatives developed by signatory organisations over the first year including media interviews and documentaries, the development of websites and videos, public engagement events and mention of animals in staff recruitment processes, places this risk into context and paves the way for more activity in the future.

The types of additional information that organisations provided varied. It included, for example, numbers and species of animals used, lay summaries of research projects, images of animals, and images including animal facility staff. Funding bodies revealed the proportion of grants that are used to fund animal research, and one organisation published on their website the minutes of Animal Welfare Ethical Review Board (AWERB) meetings.

Here in Australia, we have no such initiative. While we will see how genuine the Concordat signatories are about real openness, at least it’s a good start. Here, it is extremely difficult to obtain details of animal research. Helen Marston, CEO of Humane Research Australia (HRA), describes the difficulties of obtaining any information on her blog.

A large proportion of medical research grants involve animal experimentation. We don’t know the exact extent of this proportion, but the public has a right to know how these public funds are spent. We need transparency in animal experimentation so that we as a society can have an informed dialogue about the ethics and usefulness of this research.

 

Further reading (and viewing)

Animal experimentation. Animals Australia.

Ban primate experiments. Humane Research Australia.

Knight, A. (2007). Systematic reviews of animal experiments demonstrate poor human clinical and toxicological utility. Alternatives To Laboratory Animals, 35, 641–659.

Knight, A. on animal experimentation. A series of video clips.

Nobis, N. (2011). The harmful, nontherapeutic use of animals in research is morally wrong. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 342(4), 297-304.

Regan, T. (1985). The case for animal rights. In defense of animals. P. Singer. New York, Basil Blackwell: 13-26.

Tyler, A. (2015). The scientific case against the use of animals in biomedical research. UK, Animal Aid.

 

Tide of opinion turns against the use of animals in research

Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

The number of people who have concerns about animal research is increasing. Some feel we have no right to subject sentient beings to pain and distress with the aim of furthering our knowledge or testing drugs. Others have come to the conclusion that animals are not good models for human diseases. Increasingly, research studies find that we can never be sure that the results will be applicable in humans.

Data from Australia, the U.S., the UK and other European countries show that attitudes to animal research are changing.

Australia

A 2013 opinion poll commissioned by Humane Research Australia and carried out by Nexus Research found that:

  • Only 57% of the general public is even aware that animals are used in experimental research in Australia.
  • 64% of respondents do not believe that humans have the moral right to experiment on animals.
  • Only 13% of respondents said that they would donate to health or medical research charity if they knew it were funding animal experiments.
  • More than half the population (56%) do not believe that it is always safe to transfer results from animal research to apply to humans. A further 31% didn’t know.
  • 81% consider that the number of animals used for research and teaching in Australia (approx. 7 million p.a.) is unacceptable or is capable of reduction.
  • 81% agreed that Australia should follow the European Union and ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. The number increased to 85% for females.
  • 73% support allocating a proportion of medical research grants to funding scientific alternatives to animal experiments.

United States

The first national survey on this topic was conducted in 1948 by the National Opinion Research Center. The survey found that 84% of the public supported the use of animals in experiments, while 8% opposed it.

Since 2001, Gallup has conducted annual “Values and Beliefs” surveys. The surveys use a representative sample of the general public and consist mainly of questions not related to animals. The same questions are asked each year. According to this poll, in the decade to 2011 opposition to animal testing increased from 33% to 43%. Fifty-two percent of women and 33% of men opposed animal testing. The opposition to animal testing increased most among people under 30 years: an increase of 25% to 59%. The views of people aged 65 years and older did not change significantly over the decade.

The 2013 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll found the following extent of support for the statement that medical testing on animals is generally acceptable:

  • People aged 18 to 34 years – 47%
  • People aged 35 to 54 years – 60%
  • People aged 55 and older – 61%.
Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

United Kingdom

In 2012 Ipsos MORI conducted a survey on awareness of and public attitudes towards the use of animals in scientific research. The study was sponsored by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and involved people aged 15 years and older. Compared to previous Ipsos Mori surveys, support for animal research has declined.

In the 2012 survey, Ipsos MORI found the proportion of those who object to animal research to be 37%. Young people aged 15-24 were most likely to not support animal research because of the importance they place on animal welfare (46%).

The survey also found a lack of trust in the regulatory system about animal experimentation (33%), and more than half the respondents (51%) suspected unnecessary duplication of animal experiments.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents felt not well informed about government initiatives to develop non-animal methods of scientific research and testing. Just under half (48%) said they would like to find out more about efforts to find alternatives to using animals in experimentation for scientific research purposes.

A 2012 ComRes survey of British adults aged 18+ found the following levels of support for four statements about the use of animals in research:

  • “Scientists should be able to induce conditions in mice such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s to help them find medical treatments for those conditions” – 70% agreed, 24% disagreed, 7% responded “don’t know”.
  • “Animal experimentation for medical research purposes should only be conducted for life-threatening diseases and no other conditions” – 65% agreed, 30% disagreed, 5% “don’t know”.
  • “I feel more comfortable with animal research on mice than I do on larger mammals like cats, dogs and monkeys” – 56% agreed, 38% disagreed, 7% “don’t know”.
  • “The government should ban all experiments on animals for any form of medical research” – 31% agreed, 62% disagreed, 7% “don’t know”.
Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Europe

A 2009 survey in six European countries (Germany, France, UK, Italy, Czech Republic, Sweden) conducted by YouGov found:

  • 84% of respondents agree or mostly agree that new guidelines should ban all animal experiments that cause severe pain and suffering.
  • 81% agree or mostly agree that new guidelines should ban all animal experiments that cause pain or suffering in monkeys.
  • 73% are against or mostly against guidelines that allow experimentation to cause pain or suffering in cats.
  • 77% are against or mostly against guidelines that allow experimentation to cause pain or suffering in dogs.
  • 79% support or mostly support guidelines that ban all animal experiments unrelated to serious or life threatening human diseases.
  • 80% support or mostly support the publication of all information in regard to animal experimentation, except confidential data that would allow disclosure of names of researchers or their work places.

A 2011 survey by DemoSCOPE in Switzerland found strong opposition to research using dogs. (percentages for those respondents who lived with dogs are in brackets)

  • Should dogs be used in painful experiments to find cures for diseases in dogs? — 23%  answered yes (7%), 70% (89%) were against such research, and 7% (4%) were undecided.
  • Should dogs be used in painful experiments to find cures for diseases in humans? — 28% agreed (18%), while 65% disagreed (79%) and 7% (3%) were undecided.
  • Should dogs be used in painful experiments to better understand the risks of poisons such as pesticides? — Only 14% agreed (9%), while 79% (88%) disagreed. Seven percent (3%) were undecided.
Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

In all these countries, a significant proportion of people is opposed to any animal experimentation. This proportion increases when procedures cause pain and when the animals are monkeys, cats or dogs. Younger people and women are most likely to oppose animal experiments.

The trend is clear: the tide of opinion is turning against the use of animals in research. This sends a clear message to politicians and scientists to adapt current legislation and guidelines to reflect the views of the public.

Alternatives to using animals in medical research are already available (more about this in the next post). It’s time to stop harming and killing laboratory animals and focus on alternatives.

————–

The four images are from an exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things: empathy, trauma, witnessing and the absent referent. The Student Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, 6-14 March 2014.

 

Animal experiments are not good science

Humane Research Australia has just released a 6-part presentation by Dr Andrew Knight who explains why animal use in research is not good science.

Image

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Linda Bartlett

Andrew Knight is a European Veterinary Specialist in Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, UK, and an Associate Professor of Welfare and Ethics at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in the Caribbean.

Animal Experiments – a failing science

Efficacy –  accessing the utility of animal experiments

Statistics and regulation

Non-animal methods of research – a more humane and scientifically valid option

Humane education – caring, not killing

Working together for change

Other links:

Dr Andrew Knight’s website 

Dr Andrew Knight talks about his book The costs and benefits of animal experiments