Jane Goodall, Peter Gabriel, join fight to stop Air France carrying lab monkeys
Jane Goodall and Peter Gabriel urge Air France to halt transport of lab monkeys for medical research; airline says trade is vital for research
The world's best-known primate expert, Jane Goodall, and musician Peter Gabriel have joined a growing list of celebrities urging Air France to stop transporting monkeys for medical research, a move that would mean no big passenger airline in the world would do so.
Goodall called on the French carrier to end its "involvement in this cruel trade", while Gabriel, who has played with bonobo apes on keyboards, said he felt troubled that the airline was taking animals "to laboratories where they will be forced to live in pain and misery, experimented on and eventually killed".
The European Animal Research Association (EARA) endorsed the airline's stance and told The Guardian it was "an embarrassment to UK life sciences that British Airways and Virgin (Atlantic) will not transport animals for medical research". The remark, made by EARA's executive director, Kirk Leech, came as the US drug maker Pfizer gave up its attempt to buy the firm AstraZeneca after unions and politicians criticised the deal, which they said was motivated by tax avoidance and cuts to research budgets.
UK research using animals not bred at home depends on air transport, and animal welfare supporters' opposition to transportation includes ferry traffic of farm animals destined for slaughter in Europe.
The most recent figures on procedures applied to monkeys in the UK, relating to 2012, show that those using marmosets fell 19 per cent on the previous year, a drop of 68 to 283. Likewise the number of these animals used was reduced, by 12 to 232. But figures for macaques rose for both aspects: by 29 per cent for procedures, a rise of 613 to 2,737, and for the number of animals, up 739 to 1,954.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection have garnered powerful high-profile support for their campaigns against Air France, with singer Justin Bieber, actor James Cromwell and TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham among those backing their aims.
Goodall, in a letter to the Air France chief executive, Alexandre de Juniac, said that "social intelligent primates", who could live up to 30 years, were being transported; they had been either "traumatically captured in the jungle" or raised from mothers taken from the wild "and forced to breed at horrendous monkey farms". She called on de Juniac to take swift and decisive action on the issue.
Gabriel told the airline chief: "At the American and European laboratories served by Air France, primates are violently force-fed chemicals, inflicted with brain damage, crippled, addicted to cocaine or alcohol, deprived of food and water, or psychologically tormented and ultimately killed."
Peta said: "With no way to cheaply and easily obtain monkeys from abroad many laboratories will have a difficult, if not impossible, time getting their hands on animals to torment in cruel and archaic tests.
"Because of Peta's success in convincing major airlines to stop shipping primates to laboratories, there has been a nearly 35 per cent drop in imports of monkeys to labs in recent years, a 15 per cent decrease in the total number of primates in US laboratories, and Air France is the only major airline left carrying this cruel cargo."
Air France claimed that the use of primates was vital for research in many medical areas, including diseases of the central nervous system, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, depression, addiction to alcohol and infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and hepatitis C.
The airline said it complied with regulations and had "strict standards in terms of comfort and well-being to ensure animals [had] optimal conditions of transport". The airline had received numerous letters of support from various public or private research institutes, its statement said.
Leech, EARA executive director, recognised that some might feel "quite queasy"over the use of monkeys for research, but added: "It is that closeness to humanity which makes it, in specific examples, super important to use primates." Only 0.1 per cent of UK scientific procedures on animals involved primates, he said.
A spokesman for British Airways said: "We have a long-standing policy of not carrying live animals that are for use in any laboratory, or for experimentation or exploitation. This has been in place for more than 12 years."
Virgin said: "In common with many carriers, Virgin Atlantic does not, and never has, carried animals for research purposes."