Transparency in animal welfare
We shouldn’t be embarrassed about the great work in our sector, writes Global Animal Welfare Director Eddie Stephens.

Animal research isn’t a topic many of us are likely to bring up at a dinner party. It carries a huge negative stigma, which isn’t helped by the huge volume of questionable information that’s out there.

I can’t think of a time I’ve felt 100 per cent comfortable talking about it outside our industry. But why is this? Like my colleagues, I’m a researcher committed to curing and preventing disease in both humans and animals – and many of us are also pet owners and advocates for animal wellbeing.

As an industry, we’re operating with more honesty and clarity than ever. Transparency, and leaving nothing open to interpretation is essential in continuing to build public trust

But I think we can go further than simply meeting the regulatory requirements, not least because of the negative perception of our industry. With the current pace of technology and its impact on social media, there is an increased risk of misinformation being spread and perpetuated.

Organisations opposed to animal research are prepared to spend huge sums of money in broadcasting their messages. These groups have a right to share their views, but there’s a danger that animal research becomes just another chapter of ‘animal cruelty’ in the public consciousness.

I think we have to work harder to provide a balanced view. The use of animals for research purposes is highly regulated throughout the world, with much of the information on inspection reports from regulatory agencies available for anyone to see.

But information about the innovative and progressive projects on animal welfare that we’re all involved in is less widely shared.

I appreciate that there may be commercial sensitivities to consider, but I think there’s a genuine and increasing public demand for transparency that we can meet in ever more effective ways.

In my native US, research advocacy organisations like the Foundation for Biomedical research are beginning to launch educational campaigns to remind pet owners how research can benefit their companions.

In the media, recent articles in publications like the Wall Street Journal have taken a considered perspective on the benefits of animal research to both human and animal populations.

Closer to home, my hope is that more of these perspectives reach the European public. We in the animal health sector have a huge role to play in speaking more broadly on the positives of research and to offset the historic void we’ve left as an industry.

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