A campaign to stop monkeys being transported for drugs research is fuelling fears that labs in the UK may be forced to relocate.
By Joe Tidy, Sky News Reporter
An international campaign to get airlines to stop transporting monkeys for drugs testing is causing a crisis in the research industry.
Every year more than 2,000 monkeys are flown to Britain to be tested on in over 3,000 procedures for illnesses like Parkinson’s and dementia.
High-profile protests backed by celebrities including Chris Packham and Carol Royle have led to only one airline – Air France – willing to fly the animals from breeding farms including those in Mauritius.
The European Animal Research Association says the action has led to „a monopoly“ and already pushed the price of research up.
Kirk Leech, from the organisation, says it is a „national embarrassment“ that no British airlines are willing to fly the animals and says pressure on Air France is of great concern.
„The pharmaceutical industry is a sensitive one and if you can’t get animals into Europe for research then those studies will move to other parts of the world,“ he said.
„There will be a flight of industry to the east and that will not benefit the European economy or the UK economy, and it certainly won’t benefit UK university and other researchers that do this kind of work. An artificial ban on the importation of primates will do nobody any good.“
Testing on primates is a very small part of the animal research carried out in Britain – less than 1% of the four million procedures involve monkeys – but it is extremely controversial.
Undercover filming at a monkey breeding farm in Mauritius has formed a major part of campaigns to convince airlines to stop transporting the animals.
The National Anti-Vivisection Society filmed monkeys being swung by their tails and tattooed in what they describe as „brutality“.
Fleur Dawes, from the charity, said: „We would like to see Air France stop transporting primates altogether. It’s completely unnecessary when we have advanced scientific techniques that can provide much better human data.“
Researchers argue that biomedical alternatives are not as accurate or effective as primates.
Air France said in a statement: „The transport of live animals is an activity assigned to Air France Cargo. With its wide experience in this field, the company holds an authorisation to transport animals issued by the Ministry of Agriculture certifying that Air France complies with current regulations.
„Meanwhile the company has established strict standards in terms of comfort and well-being to ensure animals optimal conditions of transport.
„Primates travel to private research laboratories as well as public research laboratories. This highly supervised activity is paramount in the development of research and medicine in France and Europe. As such, Air France management has received numerous letters of support from various public or private research institutes.“
Today, drugs companies and scientists are meeting at the 2014 Animal Transportation Association Conference to discuss the issue – which is already having major implications on their work.