Ferries refuse to carry live laboratory animals - despite risk to medical research
PUBLISHED: 09:00 18 March 2012
Cross-Channel travel firms say controverisal loads spark outcry
Kent’s cross-Channel travel industry has refused to back down over its decision to stop the transportation of live laboratory animals despite fears over the future of medical research.
All three companies, including the new DFDS/LD Lines partnership, P&O Ferries and Eurotunnel, told KoS they would not overturn their decision.
This is despite claims by leading scientists that the reduction in live mice, rats and rabbits from overseas would threaten Britain’s position at the forefront of medical research and drug discovery.
It also defies the Government’s warning that there was a “serious problem” which required urgent action.
P&O Ferries spokesman Brian Rees said the company’s decision was consistent with its policy on live animal trade.
“The most obvious and high profile element is our refusal to transport livestock for slaughter or fattening prior to slaughter - sheep, veal calves, that sort of thing,” he said.
“But we include other contentious animal movements, such as animals for experimentation – since May last year –out of commercial necessity.
“We get a very bad reaction indeed if we carry such contentious loads.”
A DFDS Seaways spokeswoman said the firm only transported animals such as livestock for breeding, sporting or recreational purposes, and pets.
She stressed they did not transport animals for research.
“In view of the latest discussions, we wish to emphasise that we will not accept bookings for transport of animals for laboratory research purposes,” she said.
Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe said the operator – which runs the Channel Tunnel – had never been involved in the transportation of live animals.
“This is with the exception of pets, which are transported in their owners’ vehicles, or competition horses, which go under rigorous health and safety checks set by Defra,” he said.
The rigid stance by ferry operators is believed to be a result of a campaign by animal rights extremists who wrote to firms demanding they stop live animal trade.
Dover to Calais operator P&O Ferries ceased such transportation last May and smaller firms, including DFDS Seaways and Stena Lines, followed suit.
This has shut off the sea route for the transportation of test animals.
Airlines have also been pressured into stopping such trade and fears are that the RAF will have to be drafted in to fill the gap.
This week, former science minister Lord Drayson warned that by giving in to protestors, vital research into some of the most debilitating diseases was being “choked off”.
Imported animals only account for a small portion of those tested in Britain, but scientists believe access to genetically modified animals bred overseas is crucial for advanced research.
The science community supported Lord Drayson’s comments, prompting the Government to admit there was a “serious problem”.
Ministers are now working on an agreement with the life sciences industry into a code of conduct on how animals are transported.
Science minister David Willetts said in return the transport industry would have to carry such animals.
Chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Lord Phil Willis said while there had been breakthroughs in medical science, cures had yet to be found for many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntingdon’s and muscular dystrophy and effective treatments for the worst symptoms had yet to be discovered.
“The decision by airlines and ferry companies to withdraw from transporting animals for research because of threats from animal rights activists is entirely understandable on commercial grounds,” he said.
“But not on moral grounds. Poll after poll shows that the British public understand why animals are used in medical research.
“The customers of the airline and ferry companies will have either benefitted from treatments tested on animals or will want to benefit from the medicines that are currently being developed, I believe they would want to see this vital research to continue.”