Air Canada bans research primates from its flights

16 January 2013 Successes

Karen Birchard, University affairs|Air Canada bans research primates from its flights | 16/01/2013

As animal rights organizations celebrate a victory, Canadian biomedical researchers are disappointed and thinking in terms of Plan B. This is after the Canadian Transportation Agency dismissed objections by Queen’s University and the Public Health Agency of Canada to Air Canada’s decision to stop transporting non-human research primates.

“There’s lots of disappointment with this ruling,” said Andrew Winterborn, university veterinarian at Queen’s and its director of animal care. “It will make it harder to source non-human primates. Our concern is that the decision is a stepping stone” to further restrictions, he said, pointing to a recent policy by ferry companies in the U.K. to ban all research animals.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also said it is disappointed by the ruling but will try to minimize the effect by implementing “contingency” plans. However, the agency would not give details, citing security concerns.

Air Canada was one of the few remaining major airlines that carried primates destined for research. But the airline had become the target of animal rights organizations in their campaigns against the use of research animals. Even though Air Canada has never been in breach of international regulations governing the shipping of animals, it stopped shipping primates this past December. The CTA, in its ruling, said it accepted Air Canada’s argument that continuing to transport non-human primates for research purposes could have “a perceived negative impact … on its reputation and passenger sales.” Air Canada said it was pleased with the decision.

“This landmark ruling confirms the right of Air Canada to refuse shipment of primates to laboratories, which is an important stimulus for … the replacement or reduction of animal use,” said Gabriel Wildgen, campaigner for Humane Society International/Canada in a statement immediately after the CTA decision.

Most of the primates that Air Canada delivered to research facilities across the country were long-tailed macaques from China. The airline served notice in November 2011 that it wanted to ban such shipments in January 2012. Queen’s University and the Public Health Agency of Canada filed a complaint against Air Canada’s proposed change of tariff with the CTA, thus delaying its implementation while the regulatory body investigated. The decision to uphold Air Canada’s plans was released nearly a year later on Dec. 20, 2012. Air Canada put the transport ban in place three days later.

The airline will continue to carry animals, including primates, but not those primates used for research. Queen’s University had argued this policy was discriminatory, arbitrary and unreasonable. Air Canada, which carries more than 32-million passengers a year, said it had received correspondence from 47,000 people objecting to the transport of non-human primates and threatening to boycott Air Canada.

The Canadian Transportation Agency stated: “After assessing relevant facts and circumstances, and weighing the various factors and evidence presented by the parties involved in the case, the Agency found that Air Canada’s decision to stop transporting non-human primates for research constitutes a rational business decision and does not differentiate between shippers on a specific characteristic or otherwise.

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