UK activists block last sea transport for lab animals

Only foreign airlines can now transport live laboratory animals into Britain.

A letter-writing and social media campaign by animal rights activists has caused the final ferry company that had transported live laboratory animals to the UK from the continent to halt that service.

Stena Line, which operates a single passenger route between Harwich and The Hague, follows DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries in stopping the transport of animals used for laboratory testing.

Trains going through the Channel Tunnel and domestic airlines do not transport lab animals, leaving now only a small number of foreign airlines that do.

Lord Drayson, science minister from 2008 to 2010, who cofounded vaccine company PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, wrote today in the Times that cutting off transportation for lab animals is crippling the UK medical industry.

He said, in his commentary "We must defend science - and democracy":

By giving in to the protesters, they are choking off vital research into debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer.

Our reputation for world-class medical research and our ability to tackle the killer diseases that stalk our society are at stake.

If companies continue to withdraw from transporting these animals, the search for cures will shift to other countries, some of which do not have welfare regulations as stringent as those we rightly insist upon in the UK. Medical research will wither in our universities, and as a result, more people will suffer and die.

Rats, rabbits and mice used for laboratory testing come from the UK and abroad, and although only a small percentage come from outside the UK, genetically modified strains from overseas can be critical for certain research.

The medical industry is the UK's largest research sector.

Similar letter writing and social media campaigns by animal rights activists caused P&O Ferries to discontinue transporting laboratory animals last year.