Air India supports medical research

In recent years a growing threat to medical progress in many countries has been the refusal of many airlines to carry animals that are destined for medical research. In August Eric Raemdonckdiscussed on this blog how important is for scientists to work together to safeguard medical progress by supporting laboratory animal transport.


Air India renews support for medical research by transporting laboratory animals. Image credit: MitRebuad

In September the prestigious scientific journal Nature highlighted this issue in a very strong editorial on the imminent threat posed to animal research posed by campaigns by animal–rights groups such as PeTA to stop air transport of animals by companies such as UPS and FedEx, noting that:

If individual scientists wait until they are personally affected — until the day when that mouse carefully bred in Shanghai or Singapore or Stockholm cannot be had for love nor money in San Francisco — it will be long past too late to mount the vigorous, public campaign in defence of animal research that is so sorely called for at this moment.

As researchers join this battle — and join it, they must — they should, as a first step, work through their institutions, academic societies and umbrella groups to make an urgent, articulate, unified case to UPS and FedEx that the shipping of animals, mammalian and other­wise, is essential for both biomedical research and scientific education”

The Nature Editorial made some excellent points, particularly in observing that it is not only research involving non-human primates that is threatened by transport bans, but potentially – if the situation is allowed to continue to deteriorate – also research involving fruit flies, nematode worms, and even some genetically modified mice, as being able to transport such research animals from breeders or strain archives plays a crucial role in facilitating 21st century medical research. Accompanying the Nature Editorial was a Nature News article that focused on the threat to research using Xenopus frog species if transport companies were to decide that they were no longer willing to carry them. Such research plays a particularly important role in helping science to understand developmental processes in vertebrates, some of you will no doubt recall that the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Sir John Gurdon for his work on inducing pluripotency in adult Xenopus laevis cells, and this species continues to play a key role in new discoveries that he is making in this field.

This is work that needs to be safeguarded.

But can scientists really make a difference when facing well organized animal-rights campaigns?

The answer is: Yes!

The Nature editorial noted one particular PeTA campaign in particular, one that sought to end the transport of laboratory animals by Air India.

If this is not enough to make scientists sit up and take notice, they might consider the use of lab rodents, now under threat in India from a PETA campaign to halt the transport of all research animals by Air India.”

Last week we were concerned to learn that Air India had caved in to the demands of the animal rights campaigners and creased transporting laboratory animals, issuing an order in August telling managers and supervisors not to accept laboratory animals as cargo. Indian scientists who tried to contact the senior management of Air India were initially disappointed by the lack of response from the company, with Dr Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology asking:

Is the manager of cargo operations of an airline going to decide the scientific policies of this country?”

Fortunately it now appears that there were some people at Air India, and in the Indian government, who were listening to the scientists, and taking what they had to say very seriously indeed.  Last Friday it was announced that “AI’s chairman and managing director Rohit Nandan has now informed Civil Aviation Secretary K N Srivastava that the order [forbidding laboratory animal transport – SR] has been “subsequently withdrawn””.

This is very good news indeed, and shows that when scientists take the initiative and contact transport companies and government ministers they can make a difference to the policies those companies adopt. It also stresses the need for scientists and scientific organizations to take action to communicate to the public, politicians and the wider business world the importance of animal research, and to respond and debunk the misleading #ARnonsense spread by groups such as PeTA.


We congratulate Air India on their decision to safeguard the future of medical research in India, and urge all our readers to offer their support by leaving a comment on the Air India FaceBook page.


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