Contact l Sitemap

home industries issues reasearch weblog press

Home  » Industries » Transportation

UK: Backlash to Animal Testing Flight Ban Rattles British Airways

by Andrew ClarkThe Guardian
June 6th, 2005

To some, it is a rare example of a multinational company taking a principled stance on a moral issue. But to others, it amounts to a spineless surrender at the slightest hint of trouble.

British Airways' decision to stop carrying animals bound for scientific experimentation, which was revealed in the Guardian last week, has delighted anti-vivisection activists who highlight the suffering of mice, monkeys and guinea pigs in transit for laboratories.

However, BA's senior management have been rattled by a commercial and political backlash over the issue.

The Guardian has learned that BA's biggest British corporate customer, Glaxo SmithKline, which spends millions of pounds every year on staff travel, has lodged protests at the highest level about the airline's stance.

Glaxo points out that every medicine developed in Britain is required, by law, to be tested on animals. BA's policy emerged in the middle of a sensitive pricing round for Glaxo's latest contract to fly thousands of employees every year between London and its Philadelphia operational base.

BA's chairman, Martin Broughton, admitted that discontent among corporate clients was taken seriously by the airline - just as seriously, in fact, as representations from the science minister, Lord Sainsbury. But Mr Broughton was unrepentant: "What it comes down to is that live animals are not the sort of business we want to chase. We're not here, as an airline, to do business because somebody else thinks we ought to."

Speaking in China at the launch of a new BA route to Shanghai, Mr Broughton maintained that the airline's policy was purely commercial, rather than a moral decision: "In cargo generally, you want to make life as easy as you can. Live animals are tricky."

A different explanation was on offer when the Guardian tackled BA's chief executive, Rod Eddington, about the issue the following day.

Mr Eddington claimed BA was enforcing an anti-animal experimentation policy agreed by members of Iata, the international airlines' organisation: "It is an Iata issue. We are simply upholding an Iata policy."

However, a spokeswoman at Iata's European headquarters in Geneva later flatly contradicted him: "Iata do not have a policy on this issue at all."

BA's sensitivity is evident. GlaxoSmithKline is not alone - other big corporate clients, including AstraZeneca, are similarly affronted. A spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: "We have expressed our concerns to BA through a variety of formal and informal channels ... Their decision is not helping vital and necessary medical research going ahead."

Speaking privately, BA executives said the airline has long had a policy against carrying animals for experimentation - but it was only sporadically enforced until recently. The airline claims to have been worried by the prospect of violent attacks on its staff by extreme groups such as Gateway to Hell. Margaret Ewing, the finance director of airports group BAA, recently had her car vandalised. A message was sprayed on a nearby wall reading: "You are now a target."

BA's chairman said animal experimentation had yet to be discussed around the airline's boardroom table. When it is raised, there could be a robust debate: BA's board includes Martin Read, a director of Boots - which sells thousands of medicines tested on animals. Another BA director, Ashok Ganguly, has a scientific background and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Critics point to inconsistencies in BA's approach. Despite Mr Broughton's insistence that animals were "tricky", the airline remains happy to carry less controversial live cargo.

Mr Broughton said: "If somebody wanted us to carry a racehorse from London to Australia, that would be profitable."

The chairman's fondness for the equine world is well known: he is a director of the British Horseracing Board and he left BA's Shanghai event early to make it back to Britain for the Derby.

In another twist, the Guardian established that BA intends to defy animal rights protesters by continuing to carry the frozen embryos of mice bound for laboratories - a method of carriage which, according to drugs companies, is as common as transporting animals alive. There is little sign of a rethink by BA, in spite of pleading from the government, which has been unstinting in its backing for animal testing - so supportive that one company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, was given banking facilities at the Bank of England when threats prompted the withdrawal of commercial facilities.

Drugs companies insist that BA amounts to a hollow victory for animal rights protesters, as it could simply mean longer journeys for animals on indirect routes served by second-tier cargo airlines with lower welfare standards.

Glaxo's head of animal ethics, Tim Morris, was tight-lipped on the subject: "Anybody who sees what animal extremists do would understand it would be totally unreasonable for us to talk about our suppliers in this context."

But he held out an olive branch to the airline by insisting that pharmaceutical companies would avoid subjecting BA to commercial bullying.

"It would be inappropriate for us to consider economic boycotts as that would be stooping to the level of the activists who target us," he said.




This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.