A study by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), of websites of biomedical research bodies in Italy, assessing how they discuss research using animals, has found that the sector is still some way from an acceptable level of openness and transparency in animal research.
EARA assessed a total of 64 institutional websites in Italy during 2018, both public and private bodies, such as universities and pharmaceutical companies, and a rating system was developed to analyse the data. The main findings were that:
Around two in five (39%) of the institutions conducting animal research carry a recognisable statement on their websites explaining the use of animals in research/animal welfare.
However, more than two thirds of websites assessed (66%) meet the criterion for providing ‘more information’, for instance by including the kind of animals used.
Fewer than one in five (17%) of the websites can be considered to have prominent mentions of animal research – such as recognisable statements within three clicks of the homepage.
A total of 1,219 institutional websites within the EU were assessed and the findings from the EARA Study of EU-based websites 2018 have now been presented to the EU Commission, which is currently examining the findings.
In comparison to Italy, the percentage of institutions that displayed a statement on the use of animals in research in other countries was – France 32%, Germany 34%, Spain 84% and UK 95%.
EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “We believe the sector in Italy needs to make greater use of all opportunities to be more accessible and to be more transparent with the public. Whilst progress has been made by many institutions, much more could be done.
“Our view is that the websites of the institutions that we assessed will play an increasingly important role in informing members of the public, media, decision-makers and regulators about the use of animals in research, their welfare and the benefits of biomedical science for humans and animals”
The website study has helped EARA identify areas of good practice on communications and openness in the life sciences sector and areas where improvement is needed. It will also help EARA provide guidance on best practice to all its member organisations and the sector as a whole across Europe and build on the advice already given to EARA members in the EARA Communications Handbook.
The study is therefore a tool that can then be used to encourage greater transparency in line with the recommendations made in Section 3 of the Review of Directive 2010/63/EU in November 2017.
Using the documentation and techniques developed in the course of this study, EARA intends in future years to revisit the websites involved and chart the improvement (or otherwise) of the institutional openness of the sector as a whole.
 A further 100 websites from non-EU countries were assessed.