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EARA study of EU-based websites 2024 published

Updated: Apr 30

EARA study of EU-based websites 2024 published

National Transparency Agreements on animal research set the benchmark for good website content, study reveals.


A new study of the websites of biomedical research bodies across the EU, by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), to assess how openly they discuss their research using animals, reveals that an increasing number of institutions are meeting this objective - in particular, institutions that are signatories of national Transparency Agreements on animal research.


The EARA study of EU-based websites to assess institutional openness in animal research, published today, analysed a total of 908 websites during 2023, from both public and private bodies, such as universities, research centres and pharmaceutical companies, and the report has now been presented to the EU Commission. The main findings are:

  • The study found that institutions that are in Transparency Agreements (TA) on animal research in six EU countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) have performed far better than those EU countries with no TA. For instance, three-quarters (79%) of TA signatory institutions display a recognisable statement about their use of animals, on their website, compared to just a quarter (26%) of non-TA EU countries, which consequently has dragged down the overall results for the EU27 countries. TA signatories have significantly more overall website content for the public, including extensive information (63% compared to 28%).

  • Looking at the EU as a whole under half (45%) the institutions assessed have a clearly recognisable public-facing statement acknowledging their use of animals. Nevertheless, when a recognisable statement is present the quality is generally very good and has improved since the last study in 2020. 

  • Just one in four of the websites (25%) provide ‘more information’ – about the species of research animals used and/or statistics on animal use at the institution. 

  • Unfortunately, just over a third (36%) of the websites include animal research content as a prominent feature, e.g. via the search engine of the website, or easy navigation from the homepage. 

  • However, it was encouraging to see that there was a real improvement in the Case Studies category up to 39% (from 16% in 2020), Extensive Information category up to 41% (from 26% in 2020), while the Images/Video category remained stable at 37% (40% in 2020).

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “The Transparency Agreements on animal research, that have been established in the EU, are setting the benchmark for website content that is understandable for the general public and open about the uses of animals in biomedical studies.

“EARA is increasingly being asked for guidance on improving communications on animal research from institutions outside the EU, this is certainly due in part to the success of EU Transparency Agreements."


There were wide variations in the study overall results of those EU countries that conduct the majority of research using animals. For instance, the percentage of institutions that displayed a statement (one of the most important requirements) on the use of animals in research was – Belgium 57%, France 34%, Germany 50%, Italy 13%, Netherlands 55%, Portugal 37%, Spain 78%.


While many institutions are now producing meaningful and clear statements, there does appear to be a noticeable gap between those institutions that are steadily improving their website content and those that are not fully aware of the need to be transparent about animal research. The picture in Italy (where there is no Transparency Agreement) is of particular concern, where there were poor results across all categories.


Although, the categories have remained the same in this edition of the EARA website study, we have included stricter criteria in each category. By raising the bar it is not possible to directly compare these statistics with our 2020 study, but we are confident now that any EU institution that meets these criteria is certainly on the right path to greater openness about its use of animals in research. We also intend to continue using these new criteria in our future website studies so as to make meaningful comparisons.


As with the previous studies, the present study was completed with the support of the EU Commission, which agreed to circulate an EARA online survey to all EU Competent Authorities, requesting that this be distributed to all relevant institutions.


Working in collaboration with national bodies for the life sciences, one of the strategic priorities of EARA is to continue to develop national transparency agreements further. There are now plans in place to develop TAs in Ireland and Poland, as well as outside Europe. 


For further information contact EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, btolliday@eara.eu on +44 (0)7970 132801


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 more than 170 member organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, in 24 European countries (19 in the EU) and on four other continents.


EARA’s vision is that animal research is understood by society as still a critical part of the scientific process, leading to an informed and beneficial climate for innovation and progress for the benefit of human and animal and environmental health.


Signatory institutions of Transparency Agreements commit to demonstrating openness and engaging in a dialogue with the public, to bring about a greater understanding of the reasons why animals are needed for research.


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.

 

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.


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