CAPE CORAL - United Airlines announced this week it will no longer ship monkeys to labs that conduct animal testing.
The announcement comes more than a year and a half after a Fox 4 investigation discovered the government paid a southwest Florida company $1.3 million in stimulus money to buy monkeys for flu virus experiments.
Tucked away in Hendry County, down long dirt roads, is a company called Primate Products. They import animals from all over the world for scientific testing and have become a target of animal activists.
In 2011, a Fox 4 investigation discovered the government spent $1.3 million in stimulus money - money meant for saving and creating jobs - to buy 108 monkeys from Primate Products for flu virus experiments.
The contract created four jobs.That same year, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals began protesting United Airlines because, when it merged with Continental, it allowed primates to be transported as cargo.
"Help us show United Airlines that this has to stop," a PETA activist said in a YouTube video.
This week United announced it will no longer ship primates "to or from medical research facilities domestically or internationally."
The airline would only say the move was a long time coming and they are happy with the decision.
"PETA is absolutely thrilled," said Justin Goodman with PETA, who praised the airline's announcement. There's currently 125,000 primates, mostly monkeys, in laboratories in the US," said Goodman. "And the only reason these facilities have been able to keep stock is because airlines have been able to ship primates there."
But shipping isn't an issue, according to Don Bradford, the president of Primate Products. He says trucks are used to ship primates out to labs.
"Another airline turning its back to the fight against disease," said Bradford, "means animals utilized in that fight will endure days and days on trucks instead of a two to three hour trip on airplanes."
PETA says the move will make it harder for companies, like Primate Products, to import primates from overseas in the first place.
"I think we're going to see a precipitous drop in animal experimentation," said Goodman, "in the coming years because of that."
In the last year, PETA says other airlines like Air Canada and Air China have enacted similar bans. The group says there are only four airlines left in the world that will ship primates to medical labs.
Government health officials have previously said using primates to test vaccines can save human lives.
Primate Products statement
"What it does do in the near future is that it may effect the availability of new or improved vaccines for your children, loved ones or pets. In the immediate future, another airline turning its back to the fight against diseases and the suffering they cause means animals utilized in that fight will endure days and days on trucks instead of a two to three hour trip on airplanes. Ultimately, the Animal Rights interests have only succeeded in causing more suffering to both animals and humans."
United Airlines statement
"We do not book, accept or transport non-human primates to or from medical research facilities domestically or internationally. We do ship non-human primates between zoos and sanctuaries within the 50 United States and Puerto Rico."
PETA news release