The second study of websites of biomedical research bodies across the EU, published by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), to assess how they discuss research using animals, shows that despite some progress, there is still an unsatisfactory level of openness and transparency.
The findings from the EARA Study of EU-based websites 2020 have now been presented to the EU Commission, which is currently examining them. The report contains detailed analysis and examples of good practice from EU biomedical institutions and builds on the first study that was conducted in 2018.
A total of 1,065 institutional websites, within the EU*, were assessed during 2020, both public and private bodies, including universities and pharmaceutical companies, with ratings used for important aspects of openness. The analysis found disappointing progress in some categories:
Just over half the institutions assessed (59%) have a recognisable statement acknowledging the use of animals, or a commitment to the welfare of research animals.
Just over half the websites (56%) have animal research as a prominent feature, e.g. through high hit rates in the search bar of the website, or easy navigation from the homepage.
Under half the websites (42%) assessed display at least one image of an animal used in research.
Fewer than a third of websites (31%) contain ‘extensive information’, such as statistics on animal use, frequently asked questions, or a general high volume of public-facing information.
However, EARA found greater progress in other categories:
More than three quarters of the websites (77%) provide ‘more information’, such as the name of the species used and/or the type of research animals are used in.
More than two thirds of the websites (68%) contain an example of research using animals conducted at that institution, such as a case study or accessible publication.
Comparing some of the countries in the study, showed wide variations across the EU. The percentage of institutions that displayed a statement (one of the most important requirements) on the use of animals in research was – Belgium 71%, France 42%, Germany 51%, Italy 43%, Netherlands 39%, Portugal 51%, Spain 81%, and UK 89%.
In every assessment category, institutions in countries with a Transparency Agreement (Belgium, Portugal, Spain, UK) showed greater openness and transparency on animal research than institutions that have not signed a Transparency Agreement. These agreements contain commitments calling on institutions to speak with clarity on their use of animals for research and to provid adequate information for both the public and the media. See the EARA Study for appendix tables.
EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “Things are moving in the right direction, but the pace of change, to achieve greater openness and transparency, needs to increase.
“Overall the sector remains at an unsatisfactory level of openness and transparency in animal research and many institutions still need to address the flaws and omissions in their website content.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has meant greater interest in vaccines and biomedical research from the public and the media, so it is time to talk about the part animals play in this research.”
Most of the medicines we use have at some point involved research using animals, for instance, animals are essential in research on Covid-19 to understand the virus.
Institutional websites are playing an increasingly important role in informing members of the public, media, decision-makers and regulators about the use of animals in research. The website 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.
There are now many excellent benchmark examples of websites from institutions across the EU available for the sector to follow, as identified both in this report (for example from this survey we have identified 240 institutions which meet all six assessment categories), the 2018 website study report, and the EARA Communications Handbook.
EARA has also produced an interactive map with a breakdown of the results in each category for each EU member state. The map also colour codes each country based on the percentage of institutions with a statement on animal research on their website.
For further information contact EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, firstname.lastname@example.org on +44 (0)7970 132801
* This report also includes website assessments for UK institutions, this is to provide consistency with the previous EARA website study in 2018.
Notes to editors
About EARA The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It has close to 100 member organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, in 20 European countries.
EARA’s vision is to enhance the understanding and recognition of research involving animals across Europe, allowing for a more constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and a more efficient climate for research in Europe.
All data was collected between 7 January, 2020 and 19 June, 2020, by EARA. Inspired by the UK Concordat on Openness on Animal Research, transparency agreements (TAs) on animal research exist in Belgium, Portugal, Spain, and in total include 297 institutions from both the private and public biomedical community.
The benefits of animal research Most of the medicines we use have at some point involved research using animals. Animals are essential in research on Covid-19 for understanding the virus, and for assessing potential drugs and vaccines. They will help millions with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord damage and parasitic infections like malaria. There are three main reasons why animals are used in research:
To advance scientific understanding
To develop solutions to medical problems
To test medicines and vaccines in order to protect the safety of people, animals and the environment.
Animals are used when there is a need to find out what happens in the whole living body, which is far more complex than the sum of its parts. It is very difficult, and in most cases simply not yet possible, to develop non-animal methods to replace the use of living animals.