Importance of exchanging fly stocks between countries
For over a century, Drosophila melanogaster has been a popular model organism used worldwide for experimental research to investigate a vast range of different biological questions.
A major contribution to the success of Drosophila research has been the ability to openly share genetically characterized stocks between scientists. Exchange of stocks across borders between collaborators, or from formalised stock centers, is vital for successful research.
The scale of international exchange of strains is substantial, with a conservative estimate of at least 10,000 shipments of Drosophila stocks crossing international borders each year (Cook & Parks, 2022).
To maximize the success of your D. melanogaster shipments and to avoid unnecessary delays you may find it helpful to:
1. Read the brief general summary below of legal regulations, procedures and fly packaging tips
2. Bear in mind that some regulations cover D. melanogaster but not other Drosophila species
3. Contact your National EDS fly shipping representative for information on the procedures that work best for your country:National EDS fly shipping representatives
How to send D. melanogaster stocks across borders
When shipping D. melanogaster, it is important to consider the countries of both the sender and the recipient with regard to three main issues:
1. Carrier policies
2. Official import rules
3. Official export rules
1. Carrier Policies
A. Postal Services
According to international postal rules, described in the official Universal Postal Convention document (Article 19. 4.2.3), it is legal to mail “flies of the family Drosophilidae for biomedical research exchanged between officially recognized institutions” via letter post. This international agreement is reflected in the postal regulations of all United Nations members.
B. Commercial Couriers
Although more expensive, commercial carriers often have the advantage of shipments being faster, safer, more reliable and trackable. However, commercial carriers such as UPS, DHL and FedEx often impose their own restrictions on which goods they will transport. These shipping restrictions are not uniform but vary depending on the sender’s country so we advise you to check the country-specific courier website.
2. Official import rules
Import rules can be for a number of reasons:
- biosecurity, ie. animal, plant, environmental health
- collecting tax due on the value of import
- other regulatory requirements
A. Shipments within the European Union
In principle there are no legal restrictions on shipments of Drosophila melanogaster within European Union (EU) member states. This is because of the Single Market and Customs Union, the harmonization of animal and plant health regulations within the EU, and the absence of Customs controls at internal EU borders. No VAT is payable at intra-EU borders. It is nevertheless important to find out whether there are any local exceptions, e.g due to local biosecurity rules.
B. Import INTO the EU from non-EU countries
It is legal to import D. melanogaster and EU legislation (Article 48b) exempts: “animal and goods intended for scientific purposes” from control at border posts.
However, in practice, a shipment of flies entering the EU still goes through controls before it can be exempted from further, more stringent controls (such as veterinary and health checks).
The administrative procedures and documents required for the exemptions are currently not uniform across the EU, but differ depending on the country, and sometimes even the region, of the recipient.
VAT/TVA: All imported goods above a threshold value are liable for VAT. The amount paid depends on the value of the goods stated on the customs declaration.
For the US Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center (BDSC), account holders with a Bloomington User Number (BUN) who have logged in can upload import permits and other documents to be included with all of their shipments. Alternatively, email the documents to firstname.lastname@example.org.
C. Import into EMBC states that are outside the EU
Several non-EU countries are part of the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) of 30 member states that are served by the EDS. Import regulations for these countries may differ from those of the EU.
For example, in 2023, the UK government issued a specific Import Authorisation for D. melanogaster, which should be printed out and included with each shipment into the UK.
3. Official export rules
Exporting from the EU into non-EU countries
The sender has to ensure compliance with the requirements of the recipient country and the carrier. It is therefore necessary to ask the recipient to provide all required documents and permits before shipping, as these vary greatly from country to country.
A comprehensive explanation of the permits required for exporting to the US can be found on the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center (BDSC) website.
Information for exporting to the US, Australia or China from Austria (EU) can be found on the Vienna Drosophila Resource Center (VDRC) website.
Packaging flies for shipping
1. Use plastic tubes (not glass) containing solid food.
2. Aim to ship eggs, larvae or pupae to minimize containment problems. Allow adult flies to lay eggs for a couple of days then remove the adults.
3. Plug the tube with a tight-fitting, breathable cotton wool (or commercial) plug and tape so that the plug remains firmly in place and the contents contained during transit. However, ensure enough air can get through the plug into the tube.
4. Place the tube in a suitable container, e.g. padded envelope, postal tube, carboard box.
5. Add padding material, e.g. bubble wrap, or other packing material, both to protect the tube and prevent it moving around during transit.
6. Seal the outer container with tape to provide a second level of containment.
7. Ship the same day (ideally) and aim to use a shipment method whereby the tubes will arrive within a week to minimize the chance of adult flies emerging during transit.
8. Although eggs, larvae and pupae are robust and have a wide temperature tolerance, they can be adversely affected by the storage conditions during transit. Avoid shipping in extremely hot or cold temperatures if possible.
9. Try to avoid sending packages to arrive at the weekend or during public holidays. Ensure you inform the recipient that the package is on its way so that they can keep an eye open for it/track it and avoid unnecessary delays.
10. Do not forget to include hard copies of import permits and other required documents with the fly package.