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Freight fears could cripple UK life science, warn scientists

[ March 15, 2012   //   ]

So many freight companies have been frightened off carrying animals for medical research that the UK’s life sciences industry is under threat, warn scientists.

A report by the BBC said that campaigns by animal rights activists, bombarding airlines, ports, ferry operators and handling agents on social media sites and with letters of complaint has led to British Airways, P&O, SeaFrance, DFDS Seaways and other carriers refusing to carry animals destined for research and now, Stena, the last major ferry operator, ended its involvement in January.

While only 1% of the animals used in laboratory experiments are imported from overseas, scientists say the small number of animals from specialist breeding facilities in Europe and around the world is vital to their work and, if they cannot get the specific strains they need the UK will struggle to maintain its leading position in bio-medical research.

The BBC report quoted Professor Dominic Wells from the Royal Veterinary College, who said: “When only a few companies were affected that wasn’t a game changer, but it’s now getting to the point where enough companies have been intimidated that we can see a potentially massive impact on the collaborative nature of research, and which will slow research progress”. He called on the government to get together with the transport industry and to agree to support the life sciences “so that companies can’t be picked off one at a time”.

In a joint statement, the Medical Research Council, the Association of Medical Research Charities, the Wellcome Trust and the Laboratory Animal Breeders Association pointed out that it takes years to breed specific strains of animals for research purposes. If sharing such animals was stopped then individual institutes would have to breed their own lines, requiring the unnecessary use of many more animals over successive generations.

The UK industry is particularly vulnerable because Britain is an island, making it relatively easy for activists to target the relatively small number of airlines and ferry companies involved in the trade.

Source: BBC

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