- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

LONDON (AP) - Medical research in the U.K. is being jeopardized by activists who have convinced transport companies to stop importing animals for scientific experiments, a former British science minister says.

Following campaigns by animal rights groups, several ferry companies and airlines including British Airways now refuse to carry mice, rats and rabbits intended for laboratory testing.

The Channel Tunnel, which links the U.K. to France, has long refused to allow any animals for medical research to be transported. Only foreign airlines still carry such animals into Britain.

Paul Drayson, a former science minister, said that was “choking off vital research” into deadly diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer

“Medical research will wither in our universities, and as a result, more people will suffer and die,” he wrote in a commentary Wednesday in The Times newspaper.

Drayson called for the U.K. government to support the transport industry in opposing the animal activists.

More than 3 million animals are used in British lab experiments every year, of which about 15,000 are imported.

Fewer than 1 percent of the animals used in British labs come from abroad but scientists say those particular animals, which are often genetically modified to model human diseases, are the most important.

Scientists believe studying mice with genes for illnesses including motor neuron disease, cancer and diabetes, among others, could help them uncover the causes behind them and lead to potential drug treatments.

Animal rights groups say it is morally indefensible to inflict pain and suffering on animals and the scientific evidence for using animals in research does not justify their continued use.

They have mainly used letter-writing campaigns, public demonstrations and email or Facebook campaigns to target transport companies.

“Ferry companies and airlines are responding to peaceful public pressure by refusing to carry animals for research,” said Michelle Thew, chief executive of BUAV, a British group that campaigns against animal testing. “Animal experiments are conducted in conditions of great secrecy, but the public is not fooled _ they understand the massive suffering which is involved.”

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