OPINION: Airlines Rightly Close Their Doors To Animal Experimentation

Dimas Ardian/Getty Images

Jeremy Beckham Research Associate, PETA Laboratory Investigations Department
Font Size:

For years, animal experimenters in the United States have imported tens of thousands of live monkeys annually for use in cruel and deadly laboratory studies. These monkeys are either captured and torn from their families in the wild or intentionally bred on squalid “monkey factory farms” in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mauritius.

While the conditions of these vile facilities would appall anyone who cares about the treatment animals this trade has nevertheless become a lucrative enterprise for a few.

But bringing these animals to the United States has proved logistically difficult so the animal experimentation industry is trying a quixotic legal maneuver to compel airlines to carry their “cargo”: Experimenters have asked the Department of Transportation to force airlines to transport monkeys to use in laboratories in this country and they’re ready to go to court to make it happen.

The airlines have opposed this effort. In a free market and society, companies should have the right to respond to public sentiments how they see fit and enact their own policies.

The animal experimentation industry is demanding that the federal government illegitimately leverage its regulatory power to favor its own financial interests at the expense of the airline industry’s own autonomy, the advancement of modern science, and the well-being of countless animals.

We should be clear about what happens in these transports. A single shipment of monkeys contains hundreds of animals — sometimes more than a thousand — who have been stuffed into tiny wooden crates and shoved in the cargo holds of international flights, sometimes below the feet of unsuspecting passengers.

Many of the frequent flight paths involve multiple layovers, and the animals must remain caged, barely able to move, in the dark and living in their own excrement throughout this grueling journey.

This is only the beginning of their nightmare. Once in the laboratory, they will be used for experiments where they may be intentionally infected with diseases, have holes drilled in their skulls, be poisoned with experimental chemicals or have their bodies mutilated. Almost none will make it out alive.

Experimenters could source these same animals from domestic breeding colonies in the U.S. and ship them by ground. But domestically-bred animals are more expensive than those acquired from overseas.

Contrary to lofty statements about “curing disease,” animal experimenters want to force airlines to ship monkeys bred overseas because it’s cheap and will increase the profits of those who sell and use animals in experimentation.

The vast majority of airlines have banned the shipment of animals to laboratories for many of the same reasons that they ban animal body parts from shameful trophy hunting safaris. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. Airlines expend great effort on their corporate responsibility policies.

A 2018 Pew poll found that a clear majority of Americans now opposes the use of animals in experiments. Any airline that wants to maintain a positive image with their large passenger market will inevitably want to distance themselves from the abusive laboratory animal trade.

These airlines also have legitimate occupational safety and public health concerns with handling this type of cargo. The National Resource Council has stated that “the risk of transmission of pathogenic organisms with nonhuman primates is greater than with any other group of laboratory animals used in biomedical research.”

Zoonotic infectious agents that are carried by these monkeys and transmissible to humans include Herpes B, tuberculosis, and Ebola. This risk is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) enforces a complex set of regulations that requires handlers to wear personal protected equipment.

But accidents can and do happen. If airlines want to sidestep this occupational hazard altogether and abstain from transporting this cargo, they should be allowed to do so.

Fortunately, we need not abandon medical progress along with animal experimentation. Quite the contrary—more humans would be helped if we stopped relying on animal studies. Because other species don’t share our genetic or biological characteristics, they are poor predictors of drug response and disease pathology.

This is why the federal government reports that 95 percent of new drugs that appear safe and effective in animals go on to fail or harm humans in clinical trials.

The use of animals is as archaic and out-of-place in the 21st century as the telegraph and it should be completely replaced with modern research methods such as computational modeling, cell-based technologies and “organ-on-a-chip” microfluidics, which can provide data relevant for humans.

The airlines have both ethics and science on their side in this dispute and anyone arguing otherwise is either ignorant or stands to benefit from the exploitation of nonhuman primates.

Jeremy Beckham, MPA, MPH, CPH is a Research Associate in PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.