Top Israeli scientist criticizes El Al's refusal to export research animals
In letter to AG, Health Ministry's top scientist says ban on animal exports could serve as a 'death blow' to the research community.
El Al's refusal to fly animals for research purposes will deal a deathblow to scientific research in Israel, a Health Ministry official has stated in a letter to the attorney general.
Prof. Avi Israeli, the Health Ministry's chief scientist, wrote to Yehuda Weinstein that if the policy remained effective, experiments currently performed would be curtailed and Israel's international ranking and prestige would be hit. It would also accelerate the emigration of Israeli scientists and limit Israel's access to joint international studies. El Al's policy significantly narrows down options for animal transportation and increases its cost. In 2010 alone, more than 500,000 animals - mostly monkeys, dogs and different types of fish - were used in 1,428 experiments in Israel.
Weinstein is set to submit a legal opinion at the request of Petah Tikva District Court judge Hila Gerstl, after all seven Israeli universities sued the airline for a policy, introduced in September 2010, not to transport animals for vivisection. The plaintiffs told the court that it would significantly impede scientific research, and that as Israel's national carrier, El Al has no right to take a decision with such extensive ramifications.
El Al, a private company since 2004, replied that the policy was introduced out of purely commercial reasons.
Animal rights organizations support El Al's stance. "Consumer protests and pressure influence decision-making processes of many corporations and lead to social change such as, for example, when airlines refrain from flying animals for research purposes," they told the court. "The plaintiffs are so determined to prevent this change in Israeli society that all seven universities have joined forces."
In his letter, Prof Israeli sought to sway the attorney general's opinion in the scientists' favor. "Scientific research and public health in Israel are likely to be gravely affected," he wrote. "We must do everything we can to avert that potentially devastating and unreasonable situation."
The Health Ministry said in a statement that "due to the issue's importance and the involvement of other government authorities, the opinion was refered to the attorney general."
A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said that the matter is under review and a response will be duly submitted to the court.
Meanwhile, the High Court of Justice issued yesterday a temporary injunction against the export of 90 monkeys from Israel's Mazor primate breeding farm to the United States for research purposes, striking down a Central District Court decision ordering the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to approve the primates' export over the objections of Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and animal rights advocates.
The High Court also instructed the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which is responsible for issuing export permits for wild animals, to respond to a petition submitted by animal rights' groups Let the Animals Live and Behind Closed Doors against the export. Representatives from those groups said there was a great deal of evidence that serious abuse has occurred at the U.S. laboratory to which the animals are to be sent.
Erdan, who joined the animal rights groups' petition, is now working on a new policy that would prohibit the export of animals from commercial farms in Israel, except under extraordinary circumstances.
Ilan Lior contributed to this report.