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United Airlines ends transport of research primates

Protestors at the Chicago offices of United Airlines in May 2012.


United Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, will no longer ship non-human primates to research labs. Clarifying a policy that has been ambiguous since it merged with Continental Airlines in 2010, the airline today issued this statement: “We do not book, accept or transport non-human primates to or from medical research facilities domestically or internationally. We do ship non-human primates between zoos and sanctuaries within the 50 United States and Puerto Rico.”

With the adoption of similar rules by Air Canada last month (see ‘Air Canada to stop transporting research primates’), there are no longer any North American carriers that will move the thousands of primates that are imported each year to the United States and Canada (see ‘Activists ground primate flights’). The number of major airlines that say they fly research primates has now dwindled to four: Air France, China Eastern Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Vietnam Airlines.

United has been under pressure from activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which launched a campaign after the merger, demanding that the merged airline explicitly adopt a policy banning research primate transport. Before the merger, Continental transported research primates; United did not. PETA says that its supporters sent 130,000 protest e-mails to the carrier and demonstrated at its office in Sydney, Australia, and at its Chicago headquarters.

The announcement marks an about face from a fiercely pro-research stance that a United official published on the website of the Animal Transportation Association in September 2011. It challenges other airlines to review their policies forbidding research primate transport. It reads, in part:

Virtually every major medical advance of the last century has depended upon research with animals … I know that the greater good of mankind can be served by our assisting this industry in the transport of these animals.

Lisa Schoppa, the author of the statement and then the manager of United’s PetSafe programme, has since left the company. A United spokeswoman would not say when and why she left.



  1. Report this comment

    Peter Wright said:

    The scientific community is currently sleepwalking into a crisis on this issue. The hauliers are just taking the path of least resistance, taking the short term view, that they’d rather lose a small part of their business than risk PR problems. This is nonsensical as the public for the most part supports animal research. It’s not for PETA/BUAV and their ilk to decide countries policy on healthcare by targeting these weak links. The public must be informed and allowed to have their say. Scientists need to speak out and pressure governments to force these hauliers not to discriminate (they still transport pets for god sake- are pets of more use to humanity than drugs?!).

    In the UK you can sign an anonymous government e-petition on this matter

  2. Report this comment

    addicam rao said:

    At this rate in due course of time the objectives of the Animal activists ie to stop using animals for any type of research will be soon achieved. Because most of them believe nothing worth while has come out of these studies. I have just one question for all the so called “Animal Lovers” Is there any one of them who can honestrly declare that they have not a drug or pill or any kind of medicine that has not been tested in animals

  3. Report this comment

    addicam rao said:

    At this rate very soon all transport of animals whether NHPs or rodents or other animals (transgenic or knock outs) used in research will be stopped. Essentially with this animal activists will soon achieve their objective i.e. to stop use of animals in any kind of research because they strongly believe that nothing worth while has come out of these studies or will come in future also. I do not want to waste time of readers by listing the drugs developed by use of animals in research. I have just one question for the so called “animal lovers”. Can any one of the declare honestly that they have not taken any drug or pill or medicine which has not been tested in animals?

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    jean novak said:

    Don’t you wonder about the plane that transported the primates to the Reston lab?

    If the USARMIID couldn’t decontaminate the lab – what ever happened to the Plane?

    And what did it transport afterward?

  5. Report this comment

    Dabbe de Er said:

    ‘I have just one question for the so called “animal lovers”. Can any one of the declare honestly that they have not taken any drug or pill or medicine which has not been tested in animals?’

    The tested on animals means safe and effective meme is quite the non sequitur.
    Unless you somehow have access to all and any of the research results, plus the pharmaceutical industry suddenly stopped it’s use of devious methods and skewed reporting and retroactively altered and adjusted it’s previously produced “information” to such bright new standards, you and I have little clue to the extend to which animal use has, is and will be contributing to medical advance.

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