EDITORIAL : Exporting lab animal use does not help to end it
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2012:
Editorial feature: Exporting lab animal use does not help to end it
Respectively representing the National Association for Biomedical Research and public relations firm Berman & Company, speakers Matt Bailey and James Bowers opened the 38th annual conference of the Animal Transportation Association in Vancouver on March 19, 2012 with flamboyant warnings that animal advocates threaten the future of biomedical research by inhibiting the international exchange of animals for use in laboratories.
To those familiar with animal advocacy organizations and leadership, the Bailey and Bowers presentations were absurdist theatre–equating, for instance, the influence of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with that of a one-person organization founded by an animal hoarder who was convicted as result of a PETA investigation. This reality and history were apparently unknown to Bailey and Bowers.
The background that Bailey and Bowers breathlessly “revealed” about PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S., their two major targets, was actually discussed in the very first edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE, published in 1992.
Bailey and Bowers’ claims about the effects of animal advocacy on international laboratory animal sale and use, however, came right out of recent headlines.
The Animal Transport Association conference convened about a month after Hainan Airlines, of China, “decided to cancel a shipment of primates from China to Toronto that had been scheduled for February,” the airline announced. “Moreover,” the announcement continued, “Hainan Airlines has decided to halt its engagement in such shipments.”
Hainan Airlines had come under pressure from the British Union Against Vivisection. Said the BUAV, “We are now pleased to place Hainan Airlines on our growing list of airlines which refuse to transport primates destined for the research industry, including British Airways, Delta Airlines, China Airlines, Eva Air, South African Airlines, Alitalia, United Airlines, American Airlines and Lufthansa.”
“Medical research is being put at risk,” alleged Times of London science correspondent Tom Whipple on March 14, 2012, “because Britain’s ferry operators and airlines have capitulated to the demands of animal rights activists not to allow the transportation of mice, rabbits and rats into the country for testing.”
“More than three million animals are used in British lab experiments every year, of which about 15,000 are imported,” elaborated Associated Press medical writer Maria Cheng. “P&O Ferries, one of Britain’s largest ferry companies, decided in August 2011 to stop carrying research animals for the sake of their corporate reputation and to protect staff members from possible action by activists,” Cheng wrote.
Recalled P&O Ferries spokesperson Michelle Ulyatt, “There was a sustained social media campaign against the company. There were no direct threats, but we were put under enormous pressure and didn’t want the situation to escalate.”
Added John-Paul Ford Rojas of the Daily Telegraph, “Stena Line has reportedly followed DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries in halting the carriage of test animals, closing the last sea routes for medical researchers. The Channel Tunnel has long refused the trade.” British science minister David Willetts “admitted scientists were facing a ‘serious problem,'” Rojas continued, “and said the government had been trying to hammer out an agreement between the research and transport industries to allow the movement of the animals to go on.”
Said Willetts, “It would be a pity if we ended up saying that transporting animals had to be nationalized and taken over by the military.”
Receiving considerably less attention was the April 5, 2012 acquittal by a Los Angeles jury of Florida laboratory primate supplier Robert Matson Conyers, who had faced 10 counts of cruelty for the deaths of 15 out of 25 monkeys he had tried to fly from Guyana to a breeder in Bangkok, Thailand in early 2008. The 14 marmosets, five capuchins, and six squirrel monkeys were flown first to Miami.
From there, Associated Press correspondent Linda Deutsch summarized of the trial testimony, “The monkeys were to be flown to Frankfurt and then to their final destination. But Lufthansa Airlines, citing cold weather in Europe, refused to transport them. Conyers took the primates to a cargo area of Miami International Airport, where they remained for four days while he searched for an alternate carrier. China South Airlines agreed to transport the monkeys on a 12- to 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Thailand via China. But when the monkeys arrived in China, they were turned back over paperwork issues, such as irregularities in the shipping documents. The crates of monkeys sat on tarmac in China for 39 hours in 40-degree weather,” during the Chinese New Year celebration, “and then were sent back to Los Angeles on another 12- to 14-hour flight.”
The surviving monkeys ended up at the San Diego Zoo.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service special agent Elvin Mong photographed the allegedly partially decomposed remains of one monkey before the cargo left Miami, but was unable to intercept the initial flight to Los Angeles.
The Conyers case demonstrated why animal advocates oppose commercial traffic in animals, and further demonstrated that animal advocacy has little or nothing to do with most of the obstructions to the laboratory animal traffic. Conyers might have realized without having to be told by Lufthansa that flying animals from a very hot climate to a very cold climate en route to another very hot climate would be risky.
Most of the paperwork involved in international animal shipments pertains to certifying the animals’ health and origin, as stipulated by United Nations-brokered treaties. If at least one monkey was already dead long before arrival in China, “irregularities in the shipping documents” might have been the least of the issues.
The most significant aspect about the Conyers transaction, however, was that the direction of the shipment was opposite from the usual direction of the laboratory monkey business. Very few monkeys are flown abroad from the U.S., but thousands per year are flown in.
International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal, citing U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service data, reports that “In 2011, 18,140 primates were imported from around the world,” down from 21,315 in 2010. “This apparent drop does not necessarily show reduced demand for monkeys,” explained McGreal, “since many U.S.-based companies are now operating facilities abroad and conducting their experiments there. 89% of the monkeys were crab-eating macaques, the majority imported from China, which has no native crab-eating macaques and may re-export animals brought in from neighbor countries. The major suppliers of primates to the U.S. in 2011 were China (12,636), Mauritius (3,011), Vietnam (960),
Cambodia (870), and Indonesia (242). Apparently no shipments came in from the Philippines in 2011,” which has historically been a major supplier.
The Conyers shipment suggests that at least one company in Thailand is trying to get into the business. But U.S. and European labs may no longer be the biggest buyers of monkeys. U.S. and European pharmaceutical and consumer product makers have been outsourcing animal research and testing to the less regulated developing world for well over a decade.
As of 2006, Bridge Pharmaceuticals chief executive Glenn Rice told Beijing-based Boston Globe business writer Jehangir S. Pocha, about $2 billion a year worth of pharmaceutical testing was already outsourced to China–and that was just the beginning. “Large drug companies such as Novartis, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Roche have disclosed plans to set up research and development centers in China,” Pocha wrote.
Pfizer in September 2011 disclosed “a deal to jointly develop, manufacture and sell vaccines for animals with Jilin Guoyuan Animal Health Company Ltd.,” reported Associated Press business writer Linda A. Johnson, which “could include developing additional vaccines for pigs, poultry, cattle and perhaps pets, as well as new animal medicines.” The deal is expected to generate sales worth $1 billion per year.
India, Israel, Ghana, Pakistan, and South Africa are only some of the many other nations with fast-growing biomedical research industries fueled by outsourcing.
McGreal mentioned “concern from an Asian source about a 2,000 monkey lab reportedly planned by South Korea.” Voice-4-Animals founder Park Chang-kil warned in 2001 of South Korean government plans to make the nation a world leader in animal research, now well advanced. South Korean scientists have since 2005 announced numerous firsts in genetic manipulation, including cloning, but the economic foundation of the South Korean laboratory industry is outsourced product safety testing.
“According to data submitted by the Korea Food & Drug Administration to Representative Joo Seung-yong of the Democratic Party,” Korea Times reported in September 2011, “monkeys, dogs, rats and other animals totaling 1.51 million were used in 2010 in testing, mostly by cosmetics and pharmaceutical firms.” Joo Seung-yong wants South Korea to adopt legislation to encourage the development and adoption of alternatives to animal testing, citing recent progress in the U.S. and Europe–but meanwhile, much of that progress is seen outside the U.S. and Europe as a business opportunity.
The advent of economically successful biomedical research outsourcing means that stopping animal research projects and shutting down facilities in the U.S. and Europe can actually increase total animal use and suffering.
Strategies against outsourcing
Safeguards to ensure that animal research and testing will not be outsourced abroad, or will be done abroad under animal care standards comparable to those of the U.S. and the European Union, may be won in three ways. Companies can be persuaded–including through protest and consumer pressure–that doing overseas research and development in labs that demonstrably meet U.S. and European standards will be to their longterm advantage. Also, nations which have developed substantial outsourced animal research and testing industries can be persuaded to adopt regulatory requirements equivalent to those of the U.S. and Europe, as Joo Seung-yong hopes to do in South Korea. In addition, U.S. and European regulatory requirements may be amended to discourage outsourcing animal research and testing.
Noteworthy in this regard are recent changes to the European Union Biocides Directive. Evolving since 1991, the Biocides Directive regulates an estimated 100,000 chemicals used as non-agricultural pesticides, preservatives, disinfectants, and cleaning products. Humane Society International/Europe director of research and toxicology Troy Seidle has projected that the January 2012 Biocides Directive amendments will bring a 40% reduction in animal use in connection with biocide testing.
“The text, which has already been approved by Council of Minsters’ negotiators, will go forward for formal adoption by the Council in the coming months,” Seidle said.
Agreed the industry periodical Cleanroom Technology, “The E.U. Council of Ministers is now expected to rubber-stamp the law.”
By reducing the requirements for animal testing, the amended Biocides Directive appears likely to achieve an actual reduction of animal use, not just a reduction of animal use in one place while more is done somewhere else.
Free-market theorists sometimes argue that it is inevitable and perhaps even essential that technologically advanced nations must export the miseries peculiar to our own Industrial Revolution to poorer parts of the world, which must go through parallel cultural transformations. Outsourcing human and animal exploitation is said to be just a phase in reducing it.
People less sophisticated at rationalizing ethically dubious behavior nonetheless tend to share the impulse of most living beings to be rid of anything offensive or dangerous.
From either perspective, it is not surprising that animal advocacy turned in recent decades toward “stopping” cruel animal experiments by means that encouraged exporting them. Yet if ending cruelty is really the goal, not merely achieving hollow symbolic “victories” by removing torture out of sight and out of mind, forcing animal research and testing abroad is moving in the wrong direction.
Achieving any real reduction in the misuse of animals by labs requires keeping the experimental procedures as much in the open and under regulatory oversight as possible-which can only be done in educated and democratic societies, offering freedom to question and the right to protest.