Laboratory animal in cage.

Scientists in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Germany have already taken initiatives to become more transparent about animal research.

lculig/iStockphoto

Spain joins bandwagon for ‘openness’ about animal research

BARCELONA, SPAIN—In a bid to win the public's hearts and minds, the Spanish scientific community has pledged to become more transparent about animal research. Ninety research centers, universities, scientific societies, and companies around Spain have adopted a set of standards, launched yesterday by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), on how research organizations should open up communication channels about their use of laboratory animals. They are joining a growing movement for transparency in Europe.

Although animal research is generally accepted in Spain as beneficial, “part of the society is opposed to this type of research or isn’t sure about supporting it,” Juan Lerma, a professor at the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante, Spain, who coordinated a COSCE commission on the use of animal research, wrote in the document. The signatories want to help the public better understand the benefits, costs, and limitations of animal research through a “realistic” description of the expected results, the impact on animals' welfare, and ethical considerations.

Among other things, the Spanish organizations pledge to publicly recognize the fact that they're doing animal research, talk clearly about when, how, and why they use animals, allow visitors into their facilities, highlight the contribution of animal research during the dissemination of results, and publicize efforts to replace, reduce, and refine animal research.

One of the strengths of the document is that it does not make the assumption that opposition to animal research is “only a result of ignorance or misunderstanding” and “rather aims to promote transparency so that the public can make up their own minds,” says Nuno Franco, a researcher on laboratory animal welfare and ethics at the University of Porto in Portugal. The approach is “proactive and sincere,” Franco adds. But honoring its commitments will require considerable time and resources, he cautions, as well as a "significant cultural shift" for many institutions. “The risk here is of failing to achieve these goals.”

The 15-page "transparency agreement" was put together in collaboration with the European Animal Research Association. Spain follows in the footsteps of the United Kingdom, which put in place a Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in 2014; Belgium, where 24 research organizations issued a pledge for transparency last April; and Germany, where scientific organizations created a website to educate the public about animal studies earlier this month.