Activists' pressure 'slowing animal imports'

Mouse on a microscope Every year some 15,000 animals - mostly mice - are shipped into the UK for research

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Some leading scientists are warning pressure from animal rights activists is reducing the number of animals being brought into Britain for research.

All ferry companies and all but two airlines have stopped importing animals destined for research laboratories.

Former science minister Lord Drayson said that without such research "it is not possible to develop new medicines".

But animal rights group Peta said 90% of drugs that passed animal trials failed when given to people.

Every year some 15,000 animals - mostly mice - are shipped in from abroad - usually because they have particular traits that make them useful for the study of certain conditions. They account for 1% of the animals used in UK laboratories.

Lord Drayson, who was a minister under the last Labour government, said animal research was "regrettably" necessary and that people would "suffer and die" without it.

"If we do want to have access to medicines, and I believe that we do - more than 87% of the general public consistently over the last 10 years in polling have said that they support animal research for medical uses. And so unfortunately we do have to do this."

Start Quote

Our problem is they can't be put in a suitable transport and just driven from country to country because we have the Channel in the way”

End Quote Dominic Wells Royal Veterinary College

However, Alistair Currie from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said researchers should work harder to come up with alternatives to animal testing.

"More than 90% of drugs that pass trials in animals fail when they're given to people," he said.

"They either prove to be unsafe or simply ineffective.

"And what we're actually seeing at the moment is over the last 15 years or so the number of animals tested is going up but the number of drugs coming out at the other end are actually going down."

The BBC's Tom Fielden says animal rights campaigners have been jailed for taking direct action against laboratories in the past and more recently have focused on creating bad PR.

He says this has included letter-writing and web-based campaigns against transport companies, which appear to have had an effect.

'Collaborative research'

BBC science editor David Shukman says the move by transport companies is a potentially serious blow to Britain's standing as a major centre of research into serious diseases.

Our correspondent says the two airlines still carrying live animals use circuitous routes that make the journeys longer.

He says until now this has all been kept secret.

But the scientists who depend on the animals for their work have now decided to speak out, to try to persuade the government and the transport companies to stand up to the campaigners.

Rhesus macaques Macaques are among the primates most often used in medical research, such as on HIV vaccines

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, a geneticist at the National Institute for Medical Research, told the BBC it was vital scientists were able to import animals, so they could collaborate with colleagues abroad.

"That's very important - that you work with the same, try to understand, the same animal. This can be for assay development, where you need to have the same animal to test drugs and to compare drugs with other people working in other countries.

"And there are also cases where it's not cost effective for there to be lots of little animal breeding companies - so you'll have one big, very well maintained animal breeding company outside of the UK."

Dominic Wells of the Royal Veterinary College agreed.

"It's now getting to the point where enough companies have been intimidated and have refused to transport animals that we can see a potential worldwide impact of having problems of transporting animals between labs that will massively impact on the collaborative nature of research and will slow research progress," he said.

"Our problem is they can't be put in a suitable transport and just driven from country to country because we have the Channel in the way.

"And so with the blockade that is rapidly developing we're essentially going to be isolated from the rest of Europe and that's will have a huge impact on UK competitiveness and the very good work that is done in an awful lot of UK labs."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Re 89 Alex.

    So you work in a lab.
    God help us all if that is the quality we employ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    @. Alex
    It's not that we think that they should be treated equally. It's about acknowledging that they have just as much of a right to live on this earth.In the same way I would save my family from a burning house before I would save strangers, I would save a human before I saved an animal.We have a right to pick who to love but we don't have the right to torture those we don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    The world's overpopulated by a huge factor, vulnerable genes have propagated due to medicine and we try and keep everyone alive all the time. We waste huge resources on people who in terms of natural selection should be dead and who will create future, massively compounded problems medically.

    The sentimentality which you all love to lecture about is not in trying to protect these animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    When every 'activist' on every subject has had their way and there are no longer any jobs in the UK, no longer affordable drugs to treat diseases, no food to eat, no electricity or power, what will there be for all these atavistic, single dimensional thinkers to do then? They will certainly not be so warmly tolerated elsewhere as they and their very unpleasant activities are in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    "But animal rights group Peta said 90% of drugs that passed animal trials failed when given to people."

    Or put another way - 10% worked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    87. "will save" - Is this a promise?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    What is so darkly comical about this is how totally counterproductive it is. These people won't stop animal testing! Instead, they will force it out of the UK - one of the most heavily regulated and welfare conscious countries in the World - to other countries where they simply don't care at all. Shame on the transport companies for capitulating to this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    In reply to Grey who said "My life is infinitely more valuable than the life of a rat. If one rat is harmed but saves the lives of thousands then that's morally justifiable. We can't equate the life of a human to the life of an animal." - Just how arrogant are you??!! A life is precious, whether it be human or animal. Your comments make me sick!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Should be simple to get round, pet shops can be middle men. Import mice under the label and address of a pet shop, then sell them on the labs.

    Better still keep the work here breed lab animals locally to the use of them by the labs themselves, out the back of a pet shop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Animal testing for anything should be banned completely. It seems a strange world when an owner can be prosecuted for mistreating a pet - an animal they are responsible for - when companies can cut open,inject animals, give them life limiting illnesses and for some their deaths at will but get away with it as it is called "research". How very two faced the public is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It's such a shame that people can be so passionate about a subject without really understanding it. That's partially the fault of the scientific community for not communicating their work to the public in a way that they'll understand, and partially a result of the public's generally deficient level of critical thinking & reasoning these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I'm with animal rights protection on this one. No need to ship live animals across the world so they can be tortured. You could actually just send appropriate gene material and have the animals born and raised in the lab they will be abused and killed in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    30. Jonathan

    People often don't realize that charities like Cancer Research UK and BHF are major sponsors of animal experimentation. Is that where you want your donations to go? You have a choice.

    Would I rather see my mother die from breast cancer in her 40s, or some mice? Of course that's where I want my donations to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Since most drugs don't work on most people (Glaxo's Chief Exec said this in 2003) it does broke the question as to why humans experiment and bring forward so many very expensive drugs in a seemingly endless quest for immortality - causing suffering in the process. Who gave us the right to do this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    "More than 90% of drugs that pass trials in animals fail when they're given to people," [Alistair Currie from PETA said].

    And his point is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    When I was at university ('10) I had to plan an experiment. My lecturer told me my plan was impossible in this country as our Animal rights legislation was the strongest in the world. Protestors need to think, if animal testing is made harder in the UK with animal rights, it will move to countries where animals are not as protected. The medical research done is essential and already minimalised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    It is morally worng to inflict torture and suffering on other sentient beings, whether they be humans or other types of animal.

    We need a clear law permitting only medical experiments that do not cause undue pain to the animals subject to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I agree that animal testing is necessary for medicinal purposes, but I don't think it should be the end of the argument. What if a superior race invaded earth and subjected humans to their own testing, how would we feel then? I'm not sure where the line should be drawn; intelligence, self awareness.etc & but I think we should comprehensively answer this question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Some of the comments here are ridiculous. I think anyone who feels the taking of a life of an animal is equal in any way to a humans life ethically or morally, is not a right thinking individual. In order to have any reasonable discourse that at the very least must be a presupposition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    There has been a lot of suggestions that we replace all animal testing with other methods, presumably with in-vitro models. Well, where ever possible that has been done, mainly because the models are more reproducible and cheaper by far than using animals. However they can't reproduce the complex interactions that occur in a whole animal.
    And that is why animal studies are still needed.


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