British Airways stops all live trade for use in
Air Mauritius no longer transports macaques!
Scientists dismayed by BA animal ban
Airline stops all live trade for use in experiments
Mark Honigsbaum and Alok Jha
May 28, 2005
British Airways has been accused of setting back medical research in the UK
by enforcing a blanket ban on the transport of live animals for use in
experiments. Government officials and leading scientists have expressed
their dismay to the airline about the toughening of its stance which they
fear will send the wrong message to scientists and pharmaceutical companies
involved in animal testing, and could encourage s extremists who have been
running a high-profile campaign to shut down the live animal trade.
Department of Trade and Industry officials are understood to have raised
their concerns with senior BA management after the airline's decision not to
accept the carriage of primates, wild birds or other live caught animals
"for use in any laboratory or for experimen tation or exploitation". Colin
Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, has also
questioned the message it sends to people suffering from conditions that
could be treated through advances in medical research.
BA's policy coincides with a campaign by extremists targeting executives
from the airports company BAA and airlines such as Air France and Air
Mauritius. In February the cars of five BAA executives were vandalised and
the message "You are now a target for us" was sprayed on one executive's
This was followed by demonstrations at airline offices and travel agents
across the UK by a group called Gateway to Hell demanding a boycott of all
travel to Mauritius.
Yesterday, Air Mauritius announced it was no longer willing to transport
macaques - monkeys vital to the development of new vaccines and experiments
for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
An Air Mauritius spokesman said that Mauritius was not prepared to risk its
tourism industry while BA appeared to be at odds with official British
"Your national carrier appears to have given up on this. We feel that until
the British parties decide what to do we we have no choice but to suspend
our flights," said a spokesman.
In February Prof Blakemore wrote to BA's chairman, Rod Eddington, asking
whether BA would have a similar policy on the carriage of live animals for
food. "If BA is prepared to do this, then I can see no argument for not
carrying animals that might instead be used in research for the benefit of
human kind. How could you explain your decision to members of your own staff
who suffer, or have relatives who suffer, from diseases and disorders for
which research on animals offers the only hope of a cure?"
Mr Eddington replied that BA's announcement merely reiterated the company's
"Whilst our policy does narrow the opportunities for transportation by air
we believe there are a number of alternative options for the carriage of
this cargo," he replied to Prof Blakemore.
According to BA, its policy on live transports dates back several years and
mirrors that of other British airlines, such as Virgin and BMi. However, in
December it discovered regulations were not being properly implemented and
sought to correct procedures.
"This is a specialist cargo that is difficult to handle," said a BA
spokeswoman. "It is well documented that we have been working hard to
simplify our business. Carrying these animals is not part of our core
business." The DTI said it did not comment on discussions with individual
airlines. However, a spokesman acknowledged: "We are aware of the
difficulties that have surrounded the transport of laboratory animals for
Scientists and ministers are concerned that Britain's position as a centre
of world medical research is being eroded as more companies pull out of
dealing with animal research labs. Last year several pharmaceutical
companies reassessed their position in Britain, threatening to take billions
of pounds of research money with them if they leave. Britain is second only
to the United States in medical research. In 2003 British scientists
conducted nearly 3m experiments on animals, the majority of them mice and
rats. Nearly 4,800 procedures were performed on primates,.
Animal welfarists argue that the decisions by BA and other airlines not to
carry lab animals may worsen conditions for macaques. "Researchers will
become increasingly dependent on smaller carriers, with less choice and
fewer direct routes," wrote Prof Blakemore in his letter to Mr Eddington.