Under pressure to appear compassionate to passengers with emotional insecurities, airlines are allowing more and more animals to travel as comfort pets — dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, peacocks, ducks, roosters, turkeys, and even kangaroos and miniature horses — to name only a few. As a result allergic passengers are put at risk and nearby passengers are inconvenienced despite having paid top dollar for their seat.
At the same time, more and more airlines are refusing to carry research animals (safely below the passenger compartment) because of a pressure campaign against medical research by extremists. This makes little sense and suggests a certain level of schizophrenia in airline decision making. Animals in the passenger cabin are good if they help calm a passenger, but animals below the passenger compartment are bad even if they will help the development of new medicines and cure terrible diseases?
None of this is being done on a rational basis. Airlines wanting to avoid negative headlines in both cases have responded to pressure campaigns, which is leading to some very odd results. On one hand, you can be forced to sit next to someone with a peacock or pig in their lap or at their feet, while the airlines collect extra cash. And on the other hand, if you or someone you love is dying of cancer, the airlines are now banning transporting below the flight deck the very animals humanely used to test the safety of the new medicine that will provide the future cure.
Extremist groups like People for the “Ethical” Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been mounting an aggressive public pressure campaign sending hundreds of thousands of emails to airlines demanding that they ban the transport of research animals. The problem is under U.S. law, before drugs can be approved for human use, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that the medicine be humanely tested on animals to determine that it is safe. No one wants animals mistreated. But there is a proper and humane place for animals in medical research.
The National Institutes of Health provides literally thousands of grants that rely on humane animal research, and the FDA typically requires humane animal testing of new medicines. Mistreatment of animals is not part of the program. Nonetheless, these zealots have opted to mount a backdoor attack on medical research by targeting airlines. Who will stand up for those in need of a new cure or a medical miracle?
Airlines win kudos in the media for donating flights to tragic cases of children with cancer seeking treatment. But at the same time, these airlines make it more and more difficult to develop the medicines needed to cure these children’s diseases.
Animal research is time consuming, expensive, and heavily regulated. But it is necessary. If there were an easier or less expensive way to do it that would provide the same level of safety, the research community would be doing it already.
Interestingly, we have laws on the books that prohibit public carriers from discriminating. But the Department of Transportation (DOT) has yet to enforce these laws which has only empowered radical activists and their pressure campaigns. Non-discrimination laws do not merely mean that a carrier can’t refuse a seat to a person based on their race. These laws also mean that if an airline flies animals for zoos, or vacationing passengers, or as comfort animals, or for any reason, it cannot refuse to transport similar animals to be used in lawful and humane medical research.
This non-discrimination principle means that if the airline is willing to ship one woman’s pig to help her feel comfortable and relaxed, it must also ship other similar animals being transported for different purposes — including medical research. These animals would be safely shipped below the passenger compartment — so unlike comfort animals, other passengers are not inconvenienced or burdened in any way.
As long as the law requires humane animal research in the development of new cures and medicines, DOT should require that the non-discrimination provisions of the law be strictly enforced. Airlines should not be a political pawn to be pushed around by militants who threaten carriers with smear campaigns and hope to coerce them into disregarding established law.
Making public policy at the whim of the most extreme elements in our society endangers every American who could someday need a life-saving cure. And the truth is, we can treat animals humanely while conducting research and also develop future cures and medicines to save lives — but not if extremists are allowed to threaten and bully and the law is ignored.
George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. To learn more about Frontiers of Freedom, visit www.ff.org. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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