Airlines face complaint over refusal to transport animals for testing

A biomedical research group in the US has filed a complaint against four major airlines over their refusal to carry animals for medical research.

According to The Scientist, the National Association of Biomedical Research (NABR) filed a complaint with the US Department of Transport (DoT) against United Airlines, British Airways, China Southern and Qatar Airways.

Air Cargo News

The association’s main complaint is that the practice of refusing to carry animals for testing is unlawful as the airlines do carry them as pets, for zoos and other reasons.

The group says airlines’ refusal to carry the animals is because of public pressure from campaign groups rather than because of safety concerns.

In the DoT documentation, the NABR also argues the need to transport animals for testing in order to develop new life-saving medicines.

The NABR says that the cost and time it takes to transport animals is being driven up by the practice as there are only a select number of airlines that offer the service.

Over the last few days all four airlines have filed their response, making the argument that they have the right to decide what they want to carry as long as they treat all shippers equally.

The airlines point to a recent judicial decision over the refusal of an airline to transport hunting trophies that they claim proves their case.

The airlines also question why others that also refuse to carry animals for testing have not been included in the complaint.

Untied Airlines outlined several reasons why it does not carry animals for testing: “Carriers’ refusal to transport animals used in medical research is warranted and reasonable.

“Such policies may be based on a variety of legitimate operational, safety, and business reasons, including concerns about transferring zoonotic diseases from animals to humans, the high cost of training personnel and acquiring protective equipment for ground handlers, the negative reactions of airline passengers, pressure from animals rights activists, and the unprofitable nature of live-animal transport.

“United established its current policy in order to support sound and safe operational practices and provide the best experience for its customer passengers by minimizing service disruptions from animal rights groups and activists that targeted United for accepting animals destined for research facilities.”

China Southern claimed that the NABR brought the action “arbitrarily against a selective and exceedingly small number of carriers, despite its allegations this is an industry-wide practice”.

The Chinese carrier cited the US court decision that affirmed that “a common carrier has the discretion to discriminate in what it chooses to carry”.

“Laboratory monkeys are not the same category as pet monkeys or zoo monkeys,” the airline wrote.

“Laboratory monkeys are one specific type of cargo, and pet and zoo monkeys are two other specific types of cargo.

“China Southern does not accept laboratory monkeys from some shippers and refuse to accept them from others. The prohibition on the transportation of laboratory monkeys applies equally to all shippers worldwide.”

British Airways made a similar point: “British Airways does not accept transport as cargo live animals that are used for laboratory or for medical experimentation from some shippers and refuse to transport as cargo live animals that are used for laboratory or for medical experimentation proffered by other shippers.”

Qatar Airways also added that the NABR should be requesting a rulemaking, rather than targeting certain airlines: “The NABR has not alleged any particularized injury based on the actions of Qatar Airways (nor of any other Respondents), and seeks generalized relief from the Department which is not specific to the named carriers and which would be more appropriately sought in a petition for rulemaking.”