AI shuts door on live animals being carried for tests, scientists go unheard


In a mysterious order issued on August 23, Air India decided not to carry live animals for experimental purposes any more. Appeals from the scientific community, the Department of Biotechnology secretary and even the head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the prime minister to revoke the "inappropriate", "unreasonable" and "illogical" order have so far fallen on deaf ears.

A circular issued by Manager Cargo (Operations) in Mumbai two months ago informed duty managers, departure supervisors and all cargo staff "that Air India does not carry 'Live Animals for experimental purposes' and this is applicable to both international and domestic sectors". In view of this, the circular added, "all are hereby advised Not To Accept (emphasis original) 'Live Animals for experimental purposes', ensure strict compliance". The circular does not clarify anything further.

Animal testing is routinely done in basic biology, physiology, as well as for drug research and the AI decision could affect several ongoing projects in these fields.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, the head of the PM's Scientific Advisory Council, Prof C N R Rao, wrote: "This is a highly retrograde step and something that has not been done anywhere else in the world... I hope that you can kindly look into this matter." Rao told The Sunday Express he has not even received an acknowledgement, leave aside a response.

The official silence is among the things that baffles the scientific community. Pointing out that the order has already hit some of their projects, the National Institute of Immunology (NII)'s Dr Satyajit Rath said he discovered the change in policy purely by accident.

"A shipment of rats from Bangalore was getting delayed and I thought there was some paperwork missing. But then I was told that it cannot be transported at all. When we tried to enquire from Air India, there was no response. A few days later, I chanced upon a small news item in a Bangalore newspaper in which an animal rights group was claiming that Air India had stopped transport of animals for experiments... It is with great difficulty that I could get hold of a copy of the circular. We still don't know what has prompted this decision," Rath told The Sunday Express.

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