“Transporting animals safely and humanely is the way to really address the Three Rs.”
—William White, Charles River Laboratories
The obligation to treat animals used in research ethically and humanely extends beyond their lives in the laboratory to include their transportation from place to place. Yet transporting animals is a highly regulated and complex process that raises many difficult issues.
To examine these issues, the Roundtable on Science and Welfare in Laboratory Animal Use held a workshop on September 3–4, 2014, in Washington, DC, titled Transportation of Laboratory Animals. More than 200 people participated in the workshop in person and online, including representatives of academic research institutions, pharmaceutical and consumer product companies, government agencies, research advocacy groups, professional associations, and the public.
As co-chair of the roundtable, Lynn Anderson, vice president of animal welfare and comparative medicine at Covance Laboratories, Inc.,1 said, the ultimate goal of both the workshop and the roundtable is to “foster communication and do problem solving on important issues facing the laboratory animal community.” Thus, the workshop was designed to draw attention to the essential, thoughtful journey planning behind each transport of laboratory animals.
The workshop began with an interactive quiz moderated by Bruce Kennedy, compliance associate at California State Polytechnic University. Using an audience-response system called Poll Everywhere that would be used in future interactive sessions, even off-site attendees could answer
1 Affiliations of speakers and participants were current as of September 2014.
Kennedy’s questions using tablets or cell phones. Among the questions posed were:
- It is freezing outside and you are ready to fly. The airline will transport your dog, too, in the hold of the plane. True or false?
- Besides the obvious food and water, what else must we think about when transporting animals?
- How many countries ship animals for research purposes?
- Fewer than 10?
- More than 75?
- A group of nonhuman primates is to be shipped from overseas to an American university. Which agencies would have an interest?2
Kennedy and C. Ford Morishita, retired biology teacher and founding member of the National Academy of Sciences Teacher Advisory Council, noted that the workshop had been designed for attendees to provide questions, comments, and perspectives—feedback to be incorporated into the workshop organizers’ final reflections.
Drawing from decades of experience with Charles River Laboratories, where he served as corporate vice president for veterinary and professional services, William White provided a global overview of the animal transportation process. Laboratory animals are distinguished by their intended use in research, testing, or education, he said. While the term could encompass many different species, it is generally applied to animals with a
1. False; according to the Animal Welfare Regulations, animals shall not be subject to temperatures less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 45 minutes, unless accompanied by a Certificate of Acclimation from a veterinarian.
2. Temperature, oxygen, environmental safety, stress, bedding, and something to keep the animal warm.
3. More than 75. There are about 200 countries in the world, and about one-third of them ship research animals.
4. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
defined health and genetic status that have been purpose-bred to be used in research, testing, or education. Laboratory animals rarely come from wild populations and are not intended to be used as pets.
The Live Animals Regulations (LAR), developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), list standards for about 7,000 species or container requirements.3 However, less than 20 species compose more than 98 percent of the animals that are shipped or used in biomedical research. Mice, rats, and fish make up more than 85 percent of animals used in research worldwide.
Animals need to be transported from place to place for a number of reasons, said White. In some cases, they possess specialized anatomic, genetic, psychological, or metabolic conditions. Transportation enables researchers to share genetically unique strains and to collaborate on studies. Animal transportation eliminates the need to breed commonly used strains on site, which is logistically challenging and often difficult. Transporting cryopreserved germplasm—ova, embryos, and sperm—rather than live animals is another option, especially if complex, long-distance shipping is required. However, the receiving institution needs to be able to re-derive live animals, a time-consuming process with a variable success rate. Additionally, the institution needs to maintain the recovered animals at a desired health status. It should be noted that even if animals are reconstituted at a repository, they may still have to be transported to a final destination.
Safe transportation requires experience and thoughtful planning, White observed. Shipment is done either by combining air and ground transportation or entirely by ground. The overall goal is to minimize the risk of illness or infection, stress, and death or injury, but not every shipment is perfect. “There are miscommunications. Things will happen. . . . Traffic accidents happen every day,” noted White. “The goal of this workshop is to [provide information that can help] minimize those occurrences.” While regulations are designed to ensure that safe and reliable transportation is maintained, they may not necessarily produce optimal transport under all circumstances. To illustrate that animals’ welfare is not necessarily every shipper’s primary concern, White shared a series of photographs from the World Health Organization (WHO). The photos illustrated, among other things, a calf in the back seat of a car, multiple piglets in several crates on the back of a motorcycle, chickens grossly overloaded in a makeshift car-
3 The guidelines are available at http://www.iata.org/publications/store/Pages/live-animals-regulation.aspx (accessed on September 14, 2017).
rier on the back of another motorcycle, and an unrestrained camel in the bed of an open truck. Another set of photographs illustrated deficiencies with containers, including an animal carrier with a door that had come off, a dog running around the cargo area, loose snakes, fish splashing about in water in the cargo space, and an escaped monkey.
The overall failure rate of transporting laboratory animals commercially is low, White observed. When comparing the number of containers with problems to all containers shipped by commercial breeders, only 0.07 percent of the laboratory animal containers fail. This number is likely inflated by several factors depending on the statistical calculations. “These [percentages] reflect more than a million containers in one year globally,” White said. “While there [currently] is a reasonably good success rate, it’s not perfect, but it will get worse if we start limiting the carriers, routes, and options.”
White spoke of the challenges of ground transportation, including expenses, traffic, weather extremes, the risk of breakdowns, and many other issues that can result in delays and failures. Local and regional carriers are available, but there are not a lot of choices, and costs to use dedicated trucks are significant. Transportation requires the right equipment and knowledge and is subject to strict U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements and licenses. “The worst thing you can do is have a complex route over a long distance with many transfers,” he said. “That is a recipe for failure.”
White reviewed some of the terminology used in the transport of laboratory animals. The consignor or shipper is the institution that is shipping the animals. The consignee is the institution receiving the animals. The carrier is the company transporting the animals. In the case of air transport, the airline is the primary carrier. If a trucking company picks up or delivers animals to the airport, it is the secondary or intermediate carrier.
With regard to air transport, less than 40 percent of the global commercial air fleet is capable of carrying animals. Not all cargo compartments have appropriate environmental controls, and mixed loads typically contain various perishable cargoes. Many documents and approvals can be required for transport, and pilots or airlines can refuse to carry animals. The person or the organization shipping the animals is ultimately responsible for the microbiological status of animals transported by air, and the shipper can be responsible for escaped animals. Weather delays, tempera-
ture embargos, and cancelled flights all need to be anticipated, White said.
Journey planning, including anticipating how things can go wrong, is the only way to minimize the risks in shipping, White stated. Animal transportation is highly regulated, so shippers cannot make any assumptions about what is or is not required, especially when shipping internationally. Animals will experience some stress in transit, but there are too many variables to precisely control it, White said. When animals are shipped using a commercial carrier, the outside of the container and, rarely, even the animals could become microbiologically contaminated. Occasionally animals will become sick or die during or after transit, which may or may not be the result of errors in the shipping process. Complaining about problems does little to help, while working with the transportation provider to collect and analyze the facts can improve future shipments.
Laboratory animals and biological materials of animal origin will continue to need to be transported both within and between countries, said White. In the United States, many agencies and organizations regulate or otherwise influence this activity, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DOT, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In other countries, different agencies and rules apply, and sometimes requirements conflict. Species-specific requirements and prohibitions that are unique to individual countries may also exist. Differences may be as simple as the wording on health certificates or the outright prohibition of transport into or through a country of certain species or biological material.
In response to adverse transportation events, pressure from nongovernmental organizations, and a better understanding of animal needs and improved transportation practices, new regulations are continuously developed, which adds additional complexity to an already elaborate process, White noted. Increasing documentation, licensing, certification, and inspection requirements have added to the cost and time required for each shipment, which can be compounded by inconsistent interpretation of the requirements.
The bottom line, concluded White, is that transportation options for laboratory animals are diminishing. “There is a point at which some players chose to exit the scene,” he said. “It is not personal. It is just business. It is cost. It is time. It is inconsistent interpretation of the requirements. It is increasing liability.”
Factors influencing the health of animals during transportation and practical issues affecting the safety and well-being of animals in transit apply to all forms of transportation (Chapter 4). Individual species also have particular requirements, guidelines, and needs (Chapter 5).
Multiple regulators, guiding principles, and documents are involved in transporting laboratory animals (Chapter 6). Also, different stakeholders in the system have different perspectives on animal transportation (Chapter 7).
This proceedings closes with insights generated by two interactive sessions (Chapter 8) and with a compilation of key points from the workshop as well as a look to the future regarding transportation of laboratory animals (Chapter 9).
Appendix A provides the workshop agenda. Appendix B contains biographical sketches of the workshop organizing committee members and speakers. The various points made by the workshop speakers and discussed with the audience during the interactive exercises are compiled into a Transportation Checklist in Appendix C as a tool to help with journey planning of transporting laboratory animals. The workshop’s statement of task is included as Appendix D.
Several chapters of the proceedings contain boxes that summarize recommendations made by speakers regarding the transport of laboratory animals. These should not be seen as conclusions of the workshop in general, by the members of the Roundtable on Science and Welfare in Laboratory Animal Use, the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR), or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies). They are included to further the workshop goal of providing useful information to the scientific community about matters relating to laboratory animal care and use.
Many of the speakers covered issues and procedures at a level of detail that cannot be reproduced in this workshop proceedings. Videos of the presentations and copies of the speakers’ slides are available at the project website4 and provide a wealth of additional information.
4 See http://nas-sites.org/ilar-roundtable/roundtable-activities/transportation (accessed on September 14, 2017).