Animal welfare regulation varies across the globe. While non-human primates (NHPs) are crucial in neuroscience research, their use is increasingly restricted in many countries. A recent paper in Frontiers in Neuroinformatics explores how to put an end to “ethics dumping” – where researchers move experiments to locations to circumvent animal welfare regulation – and argues the importance of putting in place animal data governance that addresses these challenges.

Animal research regulation is heavily influenced by socio-cultural values. Some cultures embrace animal research, while others oppose it, which is why there are variations in legal frameworks. Regions with strong animal welfare concerns enact strict regulations to ensure humane treatment throughout the research process.
There is an inherent conflict here, where the demand for the research is strong, and researchers might take the route of moving their experiments to get results faster. Because in the end it will often benefit patients.

In a recent Frontiers in Neuroinformatics paper, Damian Eke and his co-authors argue that when researchers intentionally choose to conduct their experiments in regions with vague animal welfare laws, this is a form of ethics dumping. This raises ethical concerns about using data generated in such experiments.

“In navigating these complexities, approaches to animal data governance should embrace the cultivation of a multi-stakeholder dialogue, where individuals from diverse cultural and ethical backgrounds collaboratively craft practical frameworks. This process must include a comparative analysis of existing regulations, considering the socio-cultural values and beliefs that underlie them, all while drawing inspiration from the established minimum standards applied in journal publications,” says Damian Eke, Research Fellow at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR) at De Montfort University and chair of the Human Brain Project’s Data Governance Working Group.

Additionally, the authors argue that development of regulations similar to those governing human data is essential. And that the establishment of international research infrastructures, where researchers can access data from various global regions, will play a pivotal role in achieving effective animal data governance to drive research and innovation forward.

Eke, D., Ogoh, G., Knight, W., & Stahl, B., Time to consider animal data governance: perspectives from neuroscience, Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, 2023:17, DOI: 10.3389/fninf.2023.1233121

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