Airline decision to end monkey transport will worsen research shortage | science

Air France announced last week that it will stop transporting non-human primates. The decision will create additional problems for biomedical research, which already faces increasing difficulties in obtaining monkeys. Air France was the last major airline still carrying non-human primates as cargo, as other companies have increasingly refused to do so over the past 2 decades.

The policy change, announced on Twitter, is part of a “perfect storm” for biomedical research using monkeys, says Kirk Leech, executive director of the European Animal Research Association (EARA). China, a major exporter of primates for research and the supplier of approximately 80% of monkeys used for research in the United States by early 2020, banned trade in all non-domestic terrestrial animals following the outbreak of COVID-19, drastically reduced the global supply of primates. Meanwhile, demand for monkeys has soared in recent years, with research into COVID-19 adding to the crisis. And while the airlines have given up, the dwindling supply of monkeys is often flown in on chartered planes, driving up costs and limiting availability.

Air France announced its decision quietly on June 30 answer in French about another Twitter user’s now-deleted tweet, but Leech says the move was expected for some time; EARA had already planned to tell researchers about the impending decision. The tweet said Air France’s ban will take effect “once its current contractual engagements with research organizations end,” which Leech expects to be before the end of the year. Air France did not respond scienceRequest for comment.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) celebrated the decision, saying in a written statement that “Monkeys will be spared great suffering as the monkey transport trade is dealt another blow.” The organization will now focus on Egyptair, a smaller airline that PETA says has flown up to 5,000 monkeys through John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City since March.

But EARA warns that Air France’s decision will further limit essential research that relies on non-human primates. Because monkeys are more closely related to humans than rodents, dogs and other research animals, their immune systems and brains are better models for those in humans, says Peter Janssen, a neurophysiologist at KU Leuven who uses monkeys to to study blindness and memory. This makes monkeys invaluable for neuroscientific work on diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as vaccine studies. Nonhuman primates are often the final species before humans in testing, and the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency often require monkey studies of drugs before approving them. “Every [COVID-19] the vaccine … was tested in non-human primates,” says Leech.

Air France had long refused to bow to pressure from animal rights groups, in part because a board member who had worked in the pharmaceutical industry had given fellow board members a tour of a Sanofi laboratory, convincing them those that research on monkeys was substantial and conducted under humane conditions. circumstances, says Leech. The French government also supported the airline’s stance. But while other companies left, Air France remained the sole target of protests.

Air France’s circumnavigation will have the biggest impacts on the United States and Europe, the main importers of the primates – for research and other purposes, such as conservation. The airline transports many of the monkeys from Mauritius, which in recent years has become one of the world’s leading suppliers after establishing breeding colonies of long-tailed macaques that were brought to the Indian Ocean island nation as pets but became a invasive species.

“Ultimately, the way to overcome this problem is to raise them locally” in places where monkeys are needed, Leech says. But this is also likely to run into opposition, and it would take nearly a decade to build breeding colonies. Meanwhile, “this shortage will drive innovation out of the sector,” Leech predicts.

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