Over the last 10 years, the biomedical research enterprise hasundergone tremendous growth. The amount of federal funding for biomedical research has more than doubled since 1995, and the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and contract research sectors have all seen double-digit growth (PhRMA, 2005). That growth has been accompanied by parallel increases in research infrastructure, including an increase in the numbers of animals used in biomedical research. The humane transportation of research animals has been a priority, but there are concerns that the rapid increase in the numbers of animals transported, the increasing use of genetically modified animals that may have medical considerations, the complexity of permitting and inspection of research animals, and the dwindling availability of transportation services are adversely affecting the quality and ease of transportation in the United States.
Because of those concerns, the National Center for Infectious Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health asked the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research of the National Research Council to convene a committee to address problems associated with the transportation of research animals. The detailed charge to the committee is as follows:
A committee will be formed to address current problems encountered in the transportation of research animals and make recommendations to rectify these problems to the benefit of the research community and the animals themselves. The committee will focus on all species used in biomedical research and all possible modes of transportation. Specifically, they will address: animal welfare concerns during transportation; availability of quality transportation services for animals, or lack thereof; overlaps or gaps in regulatory oversight; permitting issues; transportation of tissues/specimens; regulatory burden reduction; and potential biosecurity concerns.
The Committee on Guidelines for the Humane Transportation of Laboratory Animals, convened in April 2004, includes experts in veterinary medicine, biosecurity, stress and its psychophysiological effects, research animal logistics and regulatory issues, transportation modeling, research animal welfare during transportation, and the development of transportation guidelines. The committee met three times to deliberate and develop its report. During two of the meetings, the committee held workshops to solicit information from interested parties and the public. In addition, people could provide comments to the committee through the National Academies project website.
Transportation of research animals in the United States may be divided into two major categories: animals transported from a commercial breeder to a research facility, and animals transported between research facilities. It has been reported (White, 2004) that the large commercial rodent breeders transport in excess of 1.5 million containers of animals a year within the United States. Of those shipments, 45% go to for-profit customers and 55% to nonprofit customers. Most (about 92%) of the shipments are made by ground transportation and the remainder by air. The large commercial rodent breeders have established truck routes and either use an in-house fleet of environmentally controlled vehicles or have a standing relationship with shipping companies that specialize in research animal transportation. It is estimated that 70% of containers arrive at their destination in less than 24 hours, 16% in 24–48 hours, and 14% in more than 48 hours (White, 2004).
Commercial breeders’ experience with transportation failures is relatively small. The large commercial rodent breeders estimate that only 0.035% of containers experience a problem during transportation, defined as a customer complaint or rejection of shipment: 0.03% of containers shipped by ground transportation and 0.04% of containers shipped by air transportation experience problems (White, 2004).
The importation and exportation of animals to this country are also of interest to this committee. Data on importation and exportation are not available for the majority of research animals, but the importation of nonhuman primates is tracked through the CDC Division of Global Migra- tion and Quarantine because of the concern about zoonotic diseases (a detailed discussion of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine is found in Chapter 2). The majority of nonhuman primates imported into the United States over the last 4 years were cynomologus macaques. Currently, about half the shipments of nonhuman primates into the United States occur through Los Angeles; most of the rest go through San Francisco and Chicago (CDC, 2005c).
Many options are available for transportation of animals between research facilities. A single company might handle the door-to-door delivery of the animals. Most often, when a single company, known as a carrier, is used, the company will pick up a shipment of animals, consolidate the shipment with other shipments, fly or truck the consolidated shipment with its own fleet of vehicles along established shipping routes, and deliver the shipment to its destination. Occasionally, researchers will use a carrier to ship animals to another institution, unaware that, if the destination is not near an established shipping route or if there are not enough shipments to consolidate, the carrier might subcontract the delivery to a third-party carrier. It is also possible to have a specialty courier pick up, transport, and deliver a shipment of animals in a dedicated vehicle.
Sometimes it is necessary to use two or more transport companies. In that case, a company known as a freight forwarder or handler will pick up a shipment, deliver it to a third-party carrier, which may consolidate shipments and ship to an intermediary destination, and then pick up the shipment from the third-party carrier and deliver it to its destination.
Little information is available on the transportation of research animals between research institutions within the United States. Public records on such transportation are not maintained. Because of the lack of relevant data, the committee could not draw any conclusions about the quality of this type of transportation. The committee chose to identify some of the issues that an individual researcher should consider when making arrangements for the transportation of animals between research facilities (see Table 1-1). To further assist individuals, the committee also identified characteristics of good shippers (please refer to Table 4-3 in Chapter 4).
Many companies can coordinate or directly transport shipments of research animals in environmentally controlled trucks (AAALAC International, 2003). In addition, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains a list of registered carriers (trucking or airline companies that transport animals) and handlers (companies that pick up shipments and deliver to a third-party carrier for transportation) on its website at:
National Academies Press (US), Washington (DC)
National Research Council (US) Committee on Guidelines for the Humane Transportation of Laboratory Animals. Guidelines for the Humane Transportation of Research Animals. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 1, Introduction.