Rodent import ban in UK alarms drugmakers

Rodent import ban in UK alarms drugmakers

March 14th, 2012 // 12:35 pm @

Source: Pharmalot

A clutch of UK trade associations that represent drugmakers, researchers and laboratories are expressing alarm over a decision by ferry operators to ban all imports of mice, rats and rabbits. The move came in response to pressure from animal-rights groups, which have previously succeeded in convincing airlines and airports to avoid transporting assorted creatures into the UK.

“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,” says Lord Willis, chair of theAssociation of Medical Research Charities, in a statement.

“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.”

The trade groups note that most animals used in the UK for research are bred locally, but certain programs require specific strains that can be jointly studied by scientists conducting collaborative work in other parts of the world. Consequently, breeding such animals can take a long time, “requiring the unnecessary use of many more animals over successive generations,” the groups maintain.

Besides the Association of Medical Research Charities, the organizations that jointly issued a statement include the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Laboratory Animal Breeders Association of Great Britain (see here).

One ferry operator responds that the decision to ban animal imports was made “under sustained pressure” from animal-rights groups. “Our primary concern is ensuring staff safety and our corporate reputation,” Michelle Ulyatt of P&O Ferriesshe tells Reuters, adding that at the height of campaigns against ferry operators, letter bombs had been sent to transport executives.

The ban poses a dilemma for UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who hopes to make the UK a hub for scientific research and investment, Reuters notes. “We’re going to be more flexible, more competitive, more hungry for your business than ever before,” he told pharmaceutical industry execs at a recent global pharma and biotech conference in London.

Not surprisingly, UK science minister David Willetts calls the ban was a “serious problem” that the government is determined to overcome. “We are trying to hammer out a deal in which both the life sciences industry agree a kind of code of conduct on exactly how animals… will be transported, and in return the transport industry… would all agree that they would continue to transport animals,” he told BBC radio. “That’s what we still hope we can put together. It makes sense for everyone.”

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