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  Animal rights activists plan direct action against beagle imports
Animal rights activists are planning direct action against any airline that agrees to bring a consignment of beagles into the UK, where they will be used to test new medicines, the Guardian has learned.

A facility in Sweden that houses the animals and is owned by the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is closing and the firm is moving around 300 beagles to the UK.

Activists say they will take action against airlines that fly the beagles into Britain and picket airports receiving the flights.

The plight of the beagles, which are used in experiments required by medicines regulators, has led to protests in Sweden, where campaigners have called for them to be rehoused. But AstraZeneca has confirmed most are being moved to another of its facilities in Sweden and to the UK. A spokeswoman said the welfare of the dogs was the company's "utmost priority".

One British activist, who asked not to be identified, said the action would be non-violent. He said they would not be able to target the flights carrying the beagles but would attempt to undermine the business of airlines involved.

Possible tactics include checking bags or suitcases on to flights and then not getting on, meaning all luggage would have to be taken off to remove items not connected to someone on board. A second tactic would be to board a plane, then get up just before it was due to take off and refuse to fly, again causing delays.

The activist, a member of a global group called Gateway to Hell that campaigns against the transport of laboratory animals, said: "If airlines agree to transport these dogs to Britain we will look to take action to disrupt their trade."

AstraZeneca dogs have been living in a forest facility near Malmö but it is being closed as part of a major restructuring. The company says a few of the beagles, often used to test cardiovascular drugs, are being rehoused with staff in Sweden while others are being moved to another AstraZeneca facility further north in Mölndal, near Gothenburg. The rest will be moved to the company's site at Alderley Park in Cheshire and to other "third parties" who work for the company in Britain.

An AstraZeneca spokeswoman said: "The team has concluded that, because these dogs have been purpose-bred for research and they are needed to support our global research efforts, the best solution is to continue to utilise them for research at AstraZeneca facilities and by third parties acting on our behalf."

She added: "Animal studies are a vital part of the research process and are also required by regulators before they will approve a new medicine to be tested in humans". Fewer than 2% of the animals it uses are dogs.

She would not comment on the proposed action, but said: "The movement of these animals is fully compliant with all applicable laws and will be done with the utmost care and professionalism."

The activists believe the animals will have to be moved in small batches over a period of time, which will give them more time to find out who is involved. They believe around 300 dogs will be moved to the UK, though the company has refused to say how many are being transported for security reasons.

A new British-based group called Brown Dog is also campaigning over the beagles. A spokesman said transporting beagles was "incredibly stressful and inhumane even when the guidelines are adhered to".

It has become harder in recent years for researchers to find companies willing to bring in animals for testing by air, road or sea, partly because animal activists have campaigned against imports. This has led to concerns in the industry and among politicians that research could be hampered. One company that the activists claim they will be watching carefully is Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). SAS said: "SAS is a commercial transportation company. Whilst we respect the opinions of activist groups, we as a company do not take a political stance on an issue such as this, as long as it is legal and there is clear guidance for SAS to follow. Whenever SAS transports live animals as air cargo, we adhere strictly to all relevant government and industrial regulations."
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