Air France ends transportation of research monkeys

July 7, 2022

In a move sure to affect biomedical and behavioral research in Europe and elsewhere international airline Air France recently announced via Twitter that it would discontinue transport of research monkeys. 

Air France had previously stood firm against campaigns and protests by anti-animal research groups and continued to provide this key service for biomedical research. Now it appears Air France will join other airlines– including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Southwest, and United, along with several other carriers–in a policy that prohibits research primate transportation.

Air France had previously cited its strong support for biomedical research as the reason that it continued transportation of research primates. At this time the reason for Air France’s decision is unclear. Whether the airline has changed its view of biomedical research, or is responding to safety concerns in the face of ongoing anti-animal research campaigns, or some other reason does not appear to be in a public statement. 

The decision follows decades of campaigning that targets transportation of research animals. Writing in Science Insider in 2018, for example, David Grimm summarized the situation: 

“Commercial air carriers have increasingly refused to fly research animals for more than 2 decades. Animal rights groups in the United Kingdom first began campaigns in the 1990s, protesting at airports against the transport of monkeys and other nonhuman primates. PETA began its own offensive in the United States about 8 years ago, staging airport protests and asking its supporters to bombard airlines with calls and emails. ‘If you do research on nonhuman primates, it’s easier and cheaper to get these animals from places like China,’ Guillermo [Kathy Guillermo, PETA] says. ‘We wanted to shut off that supply line.’

The tactics appear to have worked. United Airlines, which stopped transporting research animals in 2013, has stated it did so because it became the target of animal rights groups and was worried about the safety of its passengers. And one of the last holdouts—Russian carrier AirBridgeCargo—stopped transporting nonhuman primates in July, after 200,000 people emailed the company as part of a PETA campaign.

Today, almost every major airline has a policy against transporting nonhuman primates—and in most cases, any animals—for scientific research. Air France appears to be the lone exception, citing its strong support for biomedical research.”

Just because Air France has joined the ranks of other airlines and decided to stop transporting research monkeys does not mean there is no longer a need for research with nonhuman primates. Quite the opposite, in fact: as evidenced by the current COVID-19 pandemic, a clinically relevant animal model will be crucial for the development of preventative and treatment measures for future disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. 

As we’ve written previously, research animal transport is essential to continued research that benefits humans, other animals, and society broadly. Speaking of Research joins others to ask Air France to explain why it has reversed its previous strong stand to support biomedical research. We also call on the broader community to consider how pressure on airlines and decisions that impact research animal transport affect national and international science. 

~Speaking of Research

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