According to reports circulating yesterday the companies - P&O & DFDS - stopped importing research species as a result of campaigning from animal rights groups.
This was confirmed by P&O spokeswoman Michelle Ulyatt who told Outsourcing-pharma.com the firm – which has a policy of not shipping animals for slaughter - stopped transporting rodents, beagles and primates under pressure from anti-vivisectionists.
“[Shipment of animals for preclinical research] is not a huge amount of our business, but we wanted to adopt a consistent policy” she said.
Similarly Gert Jakobsen of DFDS Group said: "In general, we do not believe that there should be specific regulations for individual customer groups. However, in light of discussions a few months ago about this issue we decided not to accept bookings for the transport of animals for research purposes."
UK group the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) was quick to voice concerns about the potential impact on research, suggesting the move “could seriously damage the ability of scientists in the UK [to conduct] research."
AMRC chief exec Sharmila Nebhrajani, chief executive of AMRC, said: “Our researchers collaborate with the best scientists around the world, and sometimes this involves transporting animals from country to country.
“To support the progress of essential and life-saving research, we need airlines [many of which have also stopped transporting research animals] and ferry companies to continue to transport animals to the best welfare standards.”
A similar sentiment was offered by coalition Government Science Minister David Willetts, who told the BBC it is a “problem” adding that: “I still hope we can reach a solution which means we can carry on having world-class research in Britain.”
Outsourcing-pharma.com contacted Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) and Precos - both of which are involved in preclinical research - but neither was willing to comment on the issue.
A Big problem?
The significance for the contract research sector may not be immediately apparent given that – according to UK Home Office statistics – only 0.7 per cent of the animals used in preclinical research in 2010 were imported.
However, UK press group the Science Media Centre stressed that - despite the limited number of animals involved - the ferry companies’ move is potentially very damaging for research community.
“The vast majority of animals used in research in the UK are bred in the UK; however, modern medical research is highly collaborative and global. When it is essential to the scientific research these collaborations can require the international transfer of a small number of specific strains of animals such as genetically modified mice.
“If imported animals were instead to come from the UK, breeding colonies would have to be established which would result in the culling of excess animals as the numbers required from some specific strains is so low.”
The organisation cited rat strain F334 – used in long-term toxicity studies and usually sourced outside the UK – and minipigs – which are used as alternatives to primates and exclusively supplied by a Danish company -among the key species that will be affected.
Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the ABPI was of similar a opinion, telling Outsourcing-pharma.com that: “While only a small fraction of the animals used in preclinical medical research are imported, their disrupted transport caused by activists will mean contract research organisations (CROs) and scientists in the UK will not have access to specific animal models developed outside the country.”
“As a result preclinical medical development research that would have previously been conducted in the UK, may now be carried out abroad where the transportation of animals is more straightforward.”