Scotland for Animals (SFA) is demanding Scottish ministers hold an independent inquiry into what it alleges is the "barbaric" treatment suffered by animals in the country's science labs - including, it claims, at Charles River Laboratories, based at Elphinstone Research Centre. Undercover activists working on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have forced German airline Lufthansa Cargo to ban the transport of dogs and cats destined for British research institutes.
The activists discovered an aircraft hold full of caged beagles destined, they claim, for the Elphinstone-based centre, along with paperwork detailing where the dogs would be delivered to during a recent raid on a Lufthansa cargo flight.
Following the airline's decision, SFA has written to every MSP demanding action now be taken to open up the information process regarding the experiments on animals, as they claim millions of pounds of taxpayers' money goes towards funding the laboratories.
John Patrick, a spokesperson for SFA, said: "The Airline Lufthansa has now pledged to end the transport of animals for research after being exposed shipping a 'cargo' of dogs to Edinburgh to be experimented on and killed by Charles River Labs in East Lothian.
"MSPs have consistently cowered away from the issue of vivisection in Scotland refusing even to discuss the matter as it is "not a devolved issue", but are always keen to meet with the animal research lobby and the firms involved in order to organise taxpayers funding for projects.
"With almost 560,000 animals being abused and killed every year in labs all over Scotland, and this number rising steadily, we think it's about time they had the courage to face this scandal and tell us, their employers, what they intend to do about it.
"There are real alternative research methods now readily available and in the 21st century we do not need animal experimentation. The practise is really barbaric and we really need to make stand about it. Animal experiments aren't working and it's about time those involved in this type of research stopped putting profit before lives."
"We are urging Scottish ministers to hold an inquiry about the whole animal experimentation subject."
SFA claim Lufthansa Cargo are just the latest airline to implement a ban on the transport of dogs and cats to be used in experiments following in the footsteps of Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and Quantas.
"The information available to the public regarding these labs is almost totally non-existent because these companies are currently protected by law and do not have to divulge anything to the public. It really is a disgraceful set of affairs," added Mr Patrick.
County MSP and Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: "Charles River is an important local company and a key employer in East Lothian, providing many highly skilled and well paid jobs. I respect the fact that people have strong ethical objections to the use of animals in scientific procedures. But I recognise that this research has helped hundreds of millions of people through advances like vaccines that have eradicated mass killers such as smallpox, and through the development of medicines and procedures to treat previously incurable conditions like heart disease.
"This research holds out the hope, with other scientific advances such as genome sequencing, of extraordinary breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of diseases as varied as cancer, mental illness and Alzheimer's. British scientists and companies are at the forefront of this work. A growing number of stages of vital research and testing can now be done, thankfully, without the use of animals.
"We all hope that the time will come when no animal experimentation is needed at all. But that's not the case at the moment - there are no validated and established laboratory methods available to totally replace animal experimentation.
"We are rightly proud of our history of animal welfare and protection. We have banned testing on great apes including chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans, and outlawed the testing of cosmetics, alcohol and tobacco on animals. We have legislated so that experimentation is only permitted when there is no alternative research technique and when the expected benefits outweigh any possible adverse effects.
"Today's approaches to drug development, involving an integrated programme of nonclinical testing and clinical trials, have been built up on a scientific basis for more than 30 years."
Officials at Lufthansa Cargo have admitted they have now added cats and dogs to their self-imposed list of banned animals which also includes apes, whales, dolphins and any animal captured in the wild.
Axel Heitmann, Director Competence Center Animals at Lufthansa Cargo, said: "Lufthansa Cargo is regarded by its customers worldwide as a highly professional transporter of live animals. Many companies and private individuals place their trust in our services because they know that with us their animals are in the best hands. This should and will continue to be the case in future. The decision not transport dogs and cats for animal experiments provides a further signal that for us the focus is on the welfare of the animals."
No-one from Charles River Laboratories Preclinical Services was available for comment, while the company also refused to divulge how many employees they have at the research centre and what their operations actually entail.
Charles River has a 60-year history of providing essential products and services to help their customers around the globe accelerate their research and drug development efforts. The company has more than 70 facilities spread across 18 countries and employs more than 8,500 employees.