Animal welfare campaigners today called for an urgent clampdown on the import of primates.
The RSPCA said the move was necessary to end the suffering endured by more than a thousand monkeys destined for UK laboratories each year.
The call for action came at the launch of a new RSPCA report, Counting the Cost, which exposes the pain the animals experience even before they reach UK labs.
About 1,500 primates are imported annually for research from Mauritius, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Israel in cramped crates for journeys taking up to three days.
Dr Mark Prescott, RSPCA primatologist and author of the report, said: "Scientific experiments in themselves can cause pain, suffering and distress but the potential for suffering can begin long before primates reach the laboratory.
"Primates have an awareness of pain and suffering similar to humans and journeys in cramped crates for up to 70 hours should be banned.
"It is ludicrous that we have EU transport legislation containing special provisions for farm animals, yet no such provision to protect primates.
"The Government has reported primates dead on arrival in Britain and this is utterly unacceptable."
The RSPCA is opposed to the import of primates and campaigns for a reduction in the numbers used and for their replacement with humane alternatives at every opportunity.
The report was being launched at Monkey World in Dorset, the only sanctuary in the UK that rehabilitates laboratory monkeys.
Many of the primates that go to the centre to be rehabilitated have never lived in social groups before and many have never even seen an adult monkey.
Laboratory monkeys are often the offspring of primates that have been trapped and taken from the wild to be bred from. They are often taken from their mothers as young as six months old.
Dr Alison Cranin, co-author of Monkey World, said: "A large proportion of the public are aware that primates are used in research and hold strong views on the issue, but many will be unaware of the suffering that occurs before they even reach the lab.
"The Government and the research industry must be responsible for making sure that they do not contribute to this cruel trade."
The report has been sent to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office.
Recommendations for immediate action include:
An end to long journey times for transported primates and tighter regulations to ensure better welfare during transport;
A ban on the use of primates from overseas breeding centres that capture primates from the wild;
A critical review of the necessity of and justification for all primate use at a national and international level;
Major improvements in housing and husbandry conditions for all laboratory primates consistent with their behavioural, social and physical needs.
The RSPCA wants the public to support the campaign by writing to the Society's research animals department or by logging on to www.rspca.org.ukprimates and signing an online petition calling for an end to the suffering endured by imported laboratory primates.
The letters and petition will be sent to Defra and the Home Office.
Copyright 2001 The Press Association Limited
Return to Primates In Biomedical Research News Sources