Air France renounces the transport of primates: why this worries scientists

It’s over a tweet that the airline Air France announced on June 30 that it would stop transporting primates on board its flights. As soon as its current obligations end, the French company will put an end to this long-standing agreement with a large part of the scientific community to be “in line with its CSR strategy” (Corporate social responsibility, editor’s note).

At this announcement, associations for the defense of animal rights such as PETA or 30 million friends expressed their joy. “Laboratory demand for more monkeys is decimating their wild populations. […] In addition to being cruel, these barbaric practices are medically irrelevant,” said Amy Meyer, Primate Experimentation Campaigns Manager for PETA USA’s Laboratory Investigations Department.

According to 2020 statistics from the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, primates represent 0.2% of animals used for research. Their use has increased by 20% since 2019. “Non-human primates are a very marginal species, between 0.1% and 0.2%, that is, it ultimately represents quite a lot of animals, but they remain extremely valuable and essential for a certain amount of research,” explains veterinarian Ivan Balansard from the Ethics and Animal Models Office at the CNRS Institute of Biological Sciences.

The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us that research, in the context of clinical trials on organisms close to humans, always needs primates. “Before clinical trials, preclinical trials, the drug candidate will be evaluated on a certain number of models in vitro. There are also alternative methods, which are not animal, which are based on organoids, tissues. […] When the drug candidate has passed all stages before being evaluated in humans, it is evaluated in monkeys, which are the closest genetically. This step is extremely important because effects can occur in primates that we may not have seen occur in rodents or in pigs, which is why it is the last resort before ‘The Man’. The fact that we have very few accidents in clinical trials is also due to the fact that everything that could have happened has been discovered before,” says Ivan Balansard.

Air France’s announcement surprises and worries the association of researchers from the Biosimia Research Group (DDR), which spoke via a forum to clarify its concerns. Suppressing the transport of primates by air would, in Gircor’s words, amount to slowing down and complicating “the development of all biotherapies, the drugs of the future, which cannot be used in humans without preclinical trials on primates. This decision will have a real impact on research related to neuroscience, to neurodegenerative diseases according to Gircor, which does not support this decision, which “clearly contrasts with the courageous position that Air France has taken until now. »

“There is a whole section of animals, monkeys, which are used in basic research, for the mechanisms of life, this is the case for what concerns the nervous system, neuroscience. It is especially used to understand neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s, Charcot, multiple sclerosis. Although other models are applicable, such as in-vitro, in-vivo models with rodents and other species, after all, in certain cases we still have to review primates,” explains Ivan Balansard.

However, PETA and many other animal advocates disagree and believe that “animals are not ours to experiment with.”

Animal activists’ concerns range from ethical issues and animal welfare to the impact of these experiments on biodiversity and primate populations. “In the labs, monkeys are poisoned, burned, electrocuted, crippled, addicted to drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, and afflicted with debilitating diseases,” says Amy Meyer. “The International Primate Society (IPS) – one of the world’s largest primate research and conservation organizations – recently released a statement in which it agrees with other primatologists around the world that the trade in wild monkeys poses a major threat to conservation of our fellow primates,” she adds.

“The concerns that animal associations may have, who want to see more efforts to promote alternative methods, are very positive. It is a global dynamic, and it is very good that there is also a demand from non-scientific associations”, says Yvan Balansard.

A COMMON GOAL, BUT A DIFFERENT STRUGGLE

PETA’s fight against these primate transports is not new. Activists have fought and continue to fight to destroy any plans to transport monkeys “to death”.

“Science shows very clearly that animal experiments do not translate into treatments or cures for humans. […] Studies have shown that a staggering 90% of basic research – most of which involves animal testing – does not lead to treatments for humans,” says Amy Meyer of PETA USA. It is based on an analysis published in 2014 in British Medical Journalwhich revealed that “animal studies have not largely advanced knowledge in human health, nor have they led to the development of treatments for pathologies affecting humans.”

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