Animal activists have known for some time that beagle puppies bred in China are regularly shipped to Indian contract research organizations like Bangalore-based Advinus, which uses them for drug toxicity studies, after which the animals are euthanized.
What they didn’t know was how the animals were getting into India. Most major airline carriers now refuse to transport animals bound for research labs, as Nature recently reported (see ‘Lab Animal Flights Squeezed‘).
It emerged last month that in at least one case, the shipper has gotten around this problem by identifying beagles as “pets.” The discovery was made after an activist snapped the above photo of the crates of 70 beagle puppies in Chennai, India, after they landed on 19 October on a Cathay Pacific flight from China. The puppies were being sent to Advinus from Beijing Marshall Biotechnology, a China-based branch of Marshall BioResources of North Rose, New York, a major research beagle breeder. Cathay Pacific has very publicly refused to transport research animals.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) confronted Cathay Pacific with the photo of the crated puppies, as well as a video of the pups in quarantine in Chennai. The airline was clearly taken aback. After conducting its own investigation. Peter Langslow, its general manager of cargo services, wrote to PETA:
“The picture that has emerged is absolutely not what we would have wished to see. I have now learned that in fact we have been carrying [beagle] shipments from this shipper… dating back as early as 2006 on an occasional basis and more regularly since 2010. Most of the consignments have been to Advinus Therapeutics in Chennai, but there have also been consignments to Mumbai and Osaka.
We are shocked and very concerned indeed at such a failure on our part to apply and enforce our own long-standing policy, not to carry animals for laboratory purposes, and we have been seeking to understand what went wrong.”
What went wrong became clear in this letter that Langslow produced. Dated March, 2011, it was written to Cathay by Marshall BioResource’s Chinese operation, after the airline inquired about the purpose of the shipments. In the letter, Langslow notes, “We were informed that the dogs were being shipped for breeding purposes, specifically for `blood type matching and breeding genetic research’ and that ‘they won’t be hurt or killed as Lab Animal.’”
In fact, the drug toxicity testing protocol (#409, by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) which Advinus lists on slide 15 of this PowerPoint presentation describing the services it offers, requires that all the beagles be euthanized.
Advinus officials also participated in the deception, it appears from this Indian government import permit for the current beagle shipment, which Langslow also provided to PETA. In it, the government, responding to a request from Advinus, describes the beagles repeatedly as “pets.”
Contacted earlier this week by email, Advinus officials responded in writing that “We do not use any large animal species for pharmacology and research purpose.”
When contacted by Nature, Scott Marshall, the president and CEO of Marshall BioResources wrote: “I don’t see how this could happen and I haven’t seen the documents.” After receiving the import permit and the letter to Cathay from his Chinese operation, Marshall said he could not comment further until he has time to conduct his own investigation. “We will need to look into this further,” he wrote.
And what of the puppies? Their 30-day quarantine period was to have ended on 19 November, but after being alerted by PETA, the Indian government — specifically, its Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision on Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) — has started an investigation and put a hold on the puppies’ continued travel, pending its results.