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.