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Preening Isn’t Just for Peacocks

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

There is a raging debate taking place in America about animal travel and airlines.  And it’s not whether passengers can fly with their therapy peacock.  The issue is whether airlines will continue to allow the transportation of research animals on their airlines or will they “virtue signal” to radicals on the left.


While not nearly as sexy to cover as passengers seeking to carry hamsters and pigs to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, this story is much more important and it could effect medical research and development as well as the ability of the US to maintain its status as the home of medical innovation.

Animal research is a critical key to unlocking wonder drugs and developing medical devices that save both human and animal lives, as well as provide new treatments for serious ailments, and treatments that may prevent disease outbreaks.  Moreover, under federal law, and due to medical protocols, animal research is required by the FDA before new medicines and life saving treatments can be approved for use in humans.

Increasingly due to efforts by radical groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) airlines have been under pressure to refuse to allow research animals to be transported.

When airlines cave to this pressure they may proclaim it as an example of their corporate social responsibility, but actually many of them are doing so in violation of the law – especially those that transport non-research animals.  The airlines’ refusal to transport animals for one legal and legitimate purpose, while agreeing to transport the very same type of animals for another purpose, violates several federal anti-discrimination laws which limit arbitrary and discriminatory policies.

In other words, airlines that refuse to transport animals for vital scientific discoveries — although they will transport the same animals for non-research purposes such as for zoos or as pets — are breaking the law.  


As the campaign by radical animal rights groups has led to more and more airlines announcing bans on animal research, transportation research options are threatened.  

As a result, scores of research, cancer treatment and medical centers, have formally protested these moves by the airlines and called upon the DOT (US Department of Transportation) to enforce the non-discriminatory transportation provisions of federal law.  

Notably little attention has been given to this complaint.  Remember, this isn’t about animal transportation safety.  The same provisions that airlines use to ensure the safety of zoo animals and the pets of passengers apply to research animals. 

When airlines refuse to carry animals for critical biomedical research but carry them for other purposes their decision is not based on any safety concerns for aircraft, crew, or passengers.  It’s fear of bad press.  

Ironically most airlines will fly pallets of drugs from companies, personnel, university researchers, and any manner of items that are needed in the process of treatments and cures, but they won’t ship research animals that are vital for the development of these treatments (or products).

As long as the U.S. government requires animal research and testing, it should also enforce its transport laws in a way that does not undermine its mandated research requirements.  This arbitrary delineation by the airlines - which has no transportation related purpose - threatens the progress of key research, research that could reduce or even eradicate diseases.  


One of the companies that recently announced it would no longer transport animals for research purposes is United Airlines.  Yet United CEO Munoz is a heart transplant recipient.  Transplant operations would NOT be possible today if it were not for animal research that made transplants a reality, nor would the anti-organ rejection drugs exist that organ recipients take.

Rather than let PETA distort the US research market, DOT should enforce existing law to require airlines to eliminate policies that discriminate among animal carriage types.

Medical innovation benefits the life of every single passenger, flight attendant and pilot on every single flight at any given time.  When peacocks preen, it’s just mother nature at work.  When airlines do it, it can be deadly.  Refusing to fly research animals in response to the noise of animal rights groups is not only morally wrong, but it is also illegal.

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