NIH spent billions on animal testing abroad but didn’t monitor anti-cruelty standards

The National Institutes of Health has sent $2.2 billion to labs outside the United States to conduct animal testing over the past decade, but has failed to investigate to ensure they meet American cruelty prevention standards, it said in a new report Test Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office berated the NIH for throwing the money over the fence and hoping for the best, saying the agency relies on the labs to self-report violations.

Few problems were reported, but GAO investigators didn’t say whether this was because there were no problems or because the labs were hiding wrongdoing.

“Without taking steps to verify the information that award winners report annually about animal testing by foreign facilities, the NIH lacks reasonable assurance that this information represents an accurate and complete record of the facilities’ care and use of laboratory animals,” said the GAO.

The report comes at a time when US funding for overseas lab work is attracting attention, particularly after US taxpayer money has flown to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Some US experts place the lab at the center of theories about the origins of the coronavirus.

GAO said the NIH is not indifferent to the risks of animal abuse in foreign laboratories and is taking steps to try to encourage good behavior.

This includes requiring labs to adhere to their own local rules as well as US standards for animal care. NIH also requires annual reports and reserves the right to request changes if issues arise.

But that all depends on information provided by the foreign labs themselves, GAO said.

“The NIH takes no steps such as B. On-site visits or requesting a third-party verification to ensure the reliability of this information,” the audit reads.

GAO’s report states that Denmark and the Netherlands have been the big dogs in US-funded animal research, with their labs taking in nearly $1.3 billion in contracts or grants from 2011-2021.

China was a relatively small player, with just one NIH contract and 33 grants totaling about $4 million over the same period.

Justin Goodman, senior vice president of the White Coat Waste Project, said his team’s revelations about US funding of animal testing abroad helped produce the GAO report.

Those revelations included funds flowing to Wuhan and a grant to a Russian lab that mutilated cats and then put them on a treadmill.

“Taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for dangerous, cruel and wasteful animal testing by foreign laboratories in Wuhan and beyond,” Mr Goodman said. “Our message to Congress is simple: stop the money. Stop the madness!”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill who were pushing for the report said it confirmed their fears.

“Billions of American taxpayer dollars flow from the NIH to overseas animal labs like the Wuhan Institute of Virology with virtually no accountability or transparency,” said Rep. Brian Mast, a Florida Republican. “The NIH’s failure to properly oversee how taxpayer dollars are spent in foreign animal testing labs is alarming and a threat to national security.”

Mr. Mast, who serves as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight, said he will urge the NIH to better monitor its spending.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus, also called for more oversight.

“Tax money given to the NIH should not be used for outdated and unnecessary medical tests,” said the Pennsylvania Republican.

The NIH is taking steps to update its testing policy for the first time since 2012. One proposal would require foreign labs hoping for funding to proactively confirm each year that they have had no compliance issues with their animal testing.

But GAO said it still relies on the labs’ own claims.

The NIH told GAO investigators that overseas visits were too expensive, especially given the “limited” number of tests involved.

In its official response to GAO, the NIH said it would submit an action plan to Congress for possible steps.

Investigators did not identify NIH-funded abuses in the report — GAO said the records go back only four years — but did offer examples of problems with animal testing in laboratories funded by other parts of the U.S. government.

In a test, $1.6 million was sent to Thailand, where a lab accidentally dosed quinine in primate subjects, killing three of them.

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