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22/09/2014

Polls reveal drop in public support for animal experiments

Two recent polls conducted by the UK Government have revealed that public opinion is turning against animal testing. We reported on this in previous weeks, and here we summarise some of the findings in more detail.

Confusingly, the Government conducted two very similar polls which give slightly different results because they asked slightly different questions. The aim of the first poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults from across the UK, was to continue the Government’s long-term study of public attitudes to animal research which started in 1999.1 The second poll, which surveyed 969 adults from across the UK, is a revised version of the first poll and is expected to be re-run in two years.2 The purpose of the new survey was to update some of the questions and present them in a different order to help respondents understand more clearly what they are being asked. The questions asked in both of the surveys are therefore similar but not identical, and as a result the responses are slightly different. We will focus mainly on the responses from the new poll.

The first survey showed that public support for animal experiments for medical research purposes has decreased by 12% from 2010 to just 64%.1 And, according to the new survey in 2014 only 37% of people agree that it is acceptable to use animals for “all types of research”.2 The majority of the public (76%) feel that more needs to be done to replace animal testing, and 54% want to know more about what is being done to improve the welfare of the animals who are used.2

Interestingly, although 68% of respondents said it was acceptable to use animals in research on the basis that it was for medical research purposes and there is no alternative, when asked about the acceptability of using certain species the acceptability drastically decreased.2 Only 14% of respondents said it was acceptable to use dogs and 15% cats for medical research to benefit people! Only 16% supported the use of macaque monkeys for medical research to benefit people, and only 47% said it was acceptable to use rats (considered the most acceptable species).2

The public also appears to have lessening confidence in the regulation and conduct of animal research. A significant proportion of respondents (44%) believe that animal research organisations are secretive and only a few (22%) feel that they are well regulated. There is also a lack of trust in the scientists carrying out the research as a large proportion of respondents feel that they might be conducting unnecessary, duplicative animal experiments and could be doing more to reduce the suffering of animals.2

The BUAV is urging the Government to take the results of these opinion polls on board by increasing efforts into the reduction of animal testing and ending the secrecy surrounding animal research.

Here are some key findings from the surveys:

  • Support for the use of animals “so long as it is for medical research purposes” has dropped from 76% in 2010 to 64% in 2014 (12% drop).1
  • Only 37% endorse the use of animals for “all types of research”– even where there is no alternative.2
  • There is widespread agreement that more work should be done to find non-animal alternatives, with 76% agreeing with this statement.2
  • 55% are interested in finding out more about the work being done to find alternatives, while 54% want to know more about what is being done to improve the welfare of animals used in research.2
  • The most common description of animal research organisations is “secretive”, at 44%, whereas only 22% think of them as “well-regulated” and only 8% think that they are open about their work.2
  • 61% feel that unnecessary duplication of animal research might go on, and almost half (47%) feel that scientists could do more to reduce the suffering of animals used in research.2
  • Only 30% of the public feel well informed about the use of animals in scientific research in the UK.2
  • Despite being a legal requirement, only 24% of people actually believe that scientific research is carried out on animals only when there is no alternative.2

Sources:

1. Attitudes to animal research – A long-term survey of public views 1999-2014. A report by Ipsos MORI for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1695/Attitudes-to-animal-research-in-2014.aspx

2. Attitudes to animal research in 2014 – A report by Ipsos MORI for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1695/Attitudes-to-animal-research-in-2014.aspx

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