Transporting animals for research

Posted on March 14, 2012 by


This morning the Times and the BBC Today programme reported that ferry companies are no longer transporting animals for use in medical research in and out of the UK. This follows pressure from anti-vivisection campaign groups and could seriously damage the ability of scientists in the UK and around the world to conduct their research. AMRC is working with other funders of medical research to ensure that we can continue to import and export animals from the UK where necessary for science.

AMRC has responded to the coverage

Lord Willis, chair of AMRC, said:

Despite the wonderful advances and breakthroughs we have seen in medical science, many diseases continue to affect peoples’ lives. Not only have we not discovered cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntingdon’s, motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy, but we have not even yet found effective treatments that can relieve the worst symptoms of these diseases.

The decision by airlines and ferry companies to withdraw from transporting animals for research because of threats from animal rights activists is entirely understandable on commercial grounds. But not on moral grounds. Poll after poll shows that the British public understand why animals are used in medical research. The customers of the airline and ferry companies will have either benefitted from treatments tested on animals or will want to benefit from the medicines that are currently being developed, I believe they would want to see this vital research to continue.

This campaign against airlines and shipping companies has gone under the radar for a long time. Now that the media have exposed the impact on science in the UK, patients, politicians and the public need to discuss whether we are going to accept a situation where the search for effective treatments is hampered because of the objections of a minority.

Sharmila Nebhrajani, chief executive of AMRC, said:

Research using animals is a small but important part of medical research funded by charities to better understand disease and develop treatments that improve and save lives. Our researchers collaborate with the best scientists around the world, and sometimes this involves transporting animals from country to country. To support the progress of essential and life-saving research, we need airlines and ferry companies to continue to transport animals to the best welfare standards.


Research using animals is a small but important part of medical research to better understand disease and develop treatments that improve and save lives. International collaboration is integral to research, and transporting a small number of animals, to and from the UK, helps UK scientists to work with colleagues around the world. Sharing animals with international colleagues not only advances science, but also reduces the need to breed animals separately at multiple sites, thus contributing to efforts to reduce the overall numbers of animals used.

The UK has high welfare standards for animal research, and these standards extend to the care animals get when they are moved around. Animals have food, water and bedding during transit and are kept in environments that maintain temperature and humidity. Vets and animal technologists check the animals before and after transport for any problems or injuries.

Campaigns to disrupt the transport routes of animals for research can lead to longer travel times, putting extra pressure on the welfare of the animals.

Wherever possible, research animals are sourced from within the UK. However, if a particular strain is required that isn’t available in the UK it is brought in from overseas. Similarly, UK institutions that breed animals sometimes export them to other countries. Home Office statistics indicate that 0.7% of the total procedures performed in the UK used animals transported into the UK from other countries. A further 22% of procedures used animals transported within the UK from breeders to research labs.

What does this mean for medical research?

Campaign groups have been pressuring freight companies for many years. It is important that companies transport animals safely and securely, under high welfare standards. Reducing the ability of scientists to collaborate by sharing animals will make medical research slower, more costly and will increase the numbers of animals used. Opinion polls show that most people understand and support medical research using animals where no alternative exists and it is important that transport companies hear the range of public opinion and scientific support.

What is AMRC doing?

Funders of medical research in the UK, including research councils, industry and charities, are working with the government to try to resolve the situation.

AMRC will continue to monitor this issue and work with our members and the rest of the life sciences sector to help scientists continue their work.

Posted in: Research