The following guest post is from Eric Raemdonck, who has a background in the aviation transport industry. Eric recently launched the Advancing Animal Research blog, whose purpose is to ” establish bridges between the aviation world, the life sciences, health care, pharmaceutical, animal research industries, educational institutions and their affiliate or representative associations as well as Governmental organisations”.
Facing a virulent campaign by animal rights activists, a growing number of airlines around the world now refuse to transport certain species of research animals, chiefly non-human primates (NHPs). This worrisome development not only threatens medical progress, but also puts the health and welfare of those animals at risk.
Animal rights extremists are trying to put a chokehold on the airline industry’s service to biomedical research via social media write-in campaigns, demonstrations at airline offices around the world, and even protests at the homes of airline executives.
Everyone concerned with the future of biomedical research must actively reject these tactics of intimidation and harassment, and stand in support of those airlines that continue to transport animals safely, comfortably and quickly to where they are needed to advance the quest for treatments and cures.
As a former secretary of the International Air Transportation Association’s Live Animals and Perishables Board, I can attest that airlines that transport animals employ highly skilled specialists and focus on finding the quickest routes possible to ensure the health of the animals en route to research institutions.
Animal research remains a small but vital component of the research and development process for new medicines. Without the ability to move research models from one country to another, or from breeder to research institution, crucial scientific research seeking new treatments for heart disease, cancer, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy and numerous other ills could come to a halt.
As things stand, almost every commercial airline in the world, save but a handful, now refuses to transport non-human primates for research, even though many have policies in place allowing for the transport of NHPs for other purposes.
The United Kingdom has perhaps the most stringent laws and oversight on the use of animals in research, yet no U.K.-based air carrier is willing to transport NHPs destined for research into the country. In the United States, very few commercial carriers remain to do the job. Airlines of other nations, upon which research institutions are increasingly relying for their animal transportation needs, are also feeling the pressure from activists and some have already given way to demands that they no longer carry laboratory animals.
Why is this happening? Why are airlines targets?
As research institutions themselves become increasingly adept at blunting the impact of activists’ campaigns, leaders in the animal rights movement are now looking toward those companies with whom the research community works or relies upon for services. ‘Stop research animal transportation and you stop animal research’ is the thinking behind the actions of animal rights extremists in targeting airlines.
Animal extremist campaigns against the airlines, such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s Primate Cargo Cruelty and various Internet petitions attract thousands of signatures. PETA also has an action alert on its web site, calling on readers to “Ask Airlines to Stop Shipping Monkeys to Be Tortured.”
Social media tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are used extensively in these campaigns to solicit support, donations, and calls for immediate action to change airline policy to include a ‘no-fly’ regulation for research animals.
The message to their followers is clear: only a few airlines remain, and by working together activists can put a stop to this practice. The message to the airlines is equally clear: change your transportation policy or we will tell the public to no longer fly with you. Through email campaigns alone, some lasting only a few hours, several airlines have made the decision to stop transporting research animals. This was done without any consultation with the companies involved and without any notice. This has occurred while airlines continue to transport animals for other industries and passengers.
Straightforward security steps taken by airlines and research institutions alike can blunt the impact of many of the activists’ campaign tactics, and protect the airlines and others involved in the global supply chain. Additionally, there are steps that concerned individuals may take to help ensure that safe and humane transport of laboratory animals will continue.
1/Stand by the airline industry and voice your support through associations such as AALAS – American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (www.aalas.org), CALAS—Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science (www.calas-acsal.org) ICLAS – International Council for Laboratory Animal Science (www.iclas.org) and other scientific and professional organizations that advocate for both biomedical research and laboratory animal welfare. Ensure that the issue of protecting humane research animal transportation is on their agendas.
2/Ensure that your elected officials appreciate the importance of animal research, and ask them to look into the problem of the declining pool of available airlines for the continued transport of research animals.
3/Inform others as to the humane and judicious nature of animal research, and why it is still needed. Underscore its achievements and the medical progress to which it has contributed. Information and links to resources to get you started are here on the Speaking of Research site, and on my Advancing Animal Research blog at http://research4drugdiscovery.blogspot.ca/