​More effort is needed to end lab animal use and suffering, says the RSPCA, as a new poll reveals the public have real concerns about animal research and testing.

The animal welfare charity say the result of the Ipsos Mori survey demonstrate the need for strong regulation and increased efforts to develop humane alternatives to the use of animals.

The survey* (published today – 24 May 2019), commissioned by the Office for Life Sciences and carried out between August and September 2018 by Ipsos Mori, shows high and rising concern among the public about animal research and testing.

An increasing number of people in the UK (31% in 2014 to 38% in 2018) now state that they do not think that animals should be used in any scientific research because of the importance they place on animal welfare.

While around two-thirds of respondents say they ‘can accept’ some use of animals in experiments, this comes with three essential provisos: it should be for ‘medical research’; there should be ‘no alternative’; and there should be no unnecessary animal suffering.

Head of RSPCA Research Animals Department, Dr Penny Hawkins said: “These results yet again show the public’s ongoing and serious concerns for lab animals – concerns which are shared by the RSPCA.”

A robust system of regulation

Penny said: “The public is entitled to expect strong controls on animal experiments that will be robustly enforced. But in recent years the number of official inspections of labs has plummeted from 1,984 in 2010 to just 966 in 2017**. The inspectors are also spending less time visiting laboratories, down from 5,690 hours in 2010 to 3,084 in 2017.

“This is deeply worrying and reflects either a lack of resource or a more ‘hands-off’ approach to regulation. Either way, these developments are disturbing to all those who have legitimate concerns about the suffering of lab animals, and call into question the statements we keep hearing about the UK’s commitment to ensuring the ‘highest welfare standards”.

More must be done to reduce animal use and suffering

It is also unsurprising that the public wants more to be done to reduce animal use. Three quarters (75%) of people say there should be more research into humane alternatives to animal experiments, and almost half (47%) believe that “scientists could do more to reduce the suffering of animals used”. The RSPCA strongly agrees with both of these opinions.

Penny continued: “Recent years have seen increasing acknowledgment that many experiments using animals are poorly designed and of questionable value, but the use of lab animals remains high. Over a billion animals have been used worldwide over the last decade, around 40 million of these in the UK, with many experiencing ‘severe’ suffering. The public is right to ask exactly what has been achieved as a result, and how much of this research is really ‘vital’ or ‘necessary’?”.

The RSPCA’s primary aim is the replacement of animal experiments with humane alternatives worldwide. Until this can be achieved, our work helps to ensure that the minimum numbers of animals are used, they experience the minimum suffering, and their welfare is significantly improved.