14/03/2012 04:10 GMT | Updated 13/05/2012 06:12 BST

Animals Rights Groups 'Choking Off Research', Former Minister Lord Drayson Warns

Vital medical research is being "choked off" and more people "will suffer and die" because airlines and ferry companies are refusing to bring animals into the country for testing in the face of pressure from animals' rights activists, a former science minister has warned.

Lord Drayson, who was a minister in the last Labour government, said "extremists" had "picked off" the companies which have now pulled out of transporting laboratory mice and other animals.

The Times reported that Stena Line had followed DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries in halting the carriage of test animals, closing the last sea route for medical researchers.

The Channel Tunnel has long refused the trade, the paper said, while no UK-based airline, including British Airways, would carry laboratory animals.

Although imported animals only account for a small proportion of those used in British laboratories, scientists say access to genetically modified strains bred overseas is vital for some advanced research.

Lord Drayson said that unless the government took action to restore the import of test animals, university research in the UK would "wither" and patients needing new treatments would die.

"What the extremists have done successfully over the years is identify weak links in the chain and to target the people at those weak links to be able to stop the process," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"The important thing is for the government to work with the transport industry as a whole to get together to agreement that all transport companies, whether they are airlines or ferries, will support the transport of animals and therefore people cannot be picked off."

Writing in The Times, he said that the pull-out of the last ferry company should be the "red flag" for all sides to come together to deal with the problems.

"By giving in to the protesters, they are choking off vital research into debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer," he wrote.

"Although small in number, animals such as mice contribute significantly to the development of new medicines to combat human and animal diseases.

"If companies continue to withdraw from transporting these animals, the search for cures will shift to other countries, some of which do not have welfare regulations as stringent as those we rightly insist upon in the UK.

"Medical research will wither in our universities, and as a result, more people will suffer and die."