The Biden administration is under attack over its continuing support for animal experimentation worldwide. Outrageously, given the current global political climate, that support includes funding for experiments on cats being conducted in Russian laboratories.
In a story first reported by The Washington Times, it was revealed that the U.S. National Institutes of Health – described on its website as the world’s largest biomedical research agency – is still underwriting medical experiments on cats at four facilities located in Russia despite global economic sanctions imposed following the unprovoked attack on Ukraine nearly a month ago.
As is often the case with research conducted on animals, the funding is being used ostensibly for scientific purposes. Nevertheless, say some Capitol Hill Republicans, the idea that any U.S. government dollars are going to Russia for any reason makes a mockery of the sanctions and raises real questions about how serious the White House is about forcing the Russian invaders back behind their borders.
“Our tax dollars should never be going to our foreign adversaries, especially as the U.S. puts crippling sanctions on the Kremlin,” Michigan GOP Rep. Lisa C. McClain told the paper.
McClain was one of a group of members of Congress who wrote the White House recently saying that cutting off the NIH grants should be “a bipartisan, common-sense position” and that the administration should take “swift and decisive action to block and further tax dollars from going to Russian research labs.”
This is not the first time the Biden administration has found itself being criticized for its refusal to end funding for experiments on animals. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — a group that claims more than 17,000 doctors as members – held a protest at the White House in December 2021 during which its leaders called for the appointment of a new NIH director “who prioritizes human-relevant, nonanimal experimentation.”
“President Joe Biden has a momentous opportunity to positively transform health research,” Catharine E. Krebs, Ph.D., medical research specialist with the doctors’ group said in Lafayette Park. “The importance of this decision cannot be overstated; the lives of all Americans, and many, many animals, will be impacted.”
The NIH, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is currently without a full-time leader. Its acting director, Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., took over after Dr. Francis Collins, a key policymaker during the COVID pandemic stepped down in December. President Biden has yet to nominate a successor to Collins – whom he recently tapped as his acting science advisor and acting co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology – and Tabak is believed to not have the clout or the desire to make the change in policy members of Congress like McClain are calling for without specific orders from the White House.
U.S. government funding of research on animals is often controversial. During the Trump administration, it was the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that came under fire over its use of beagles in experiments critics said were of dubious value. A study recently published by the White Coat Waste Project, a self-described “animal rights group,” placed the value of the funding sent to Russia’s state-run Pavlov Institute of Physiology at more than half a million dollars. The money was used, it said, to fund spinal cord research on cats, most of whom “did not survive long after the experiment was finished,” the paper said. In 2018, NIH is reported to have provided a similar grant to the Russian lab of more than $220,000 to fund a similar project.
In its materials, the physicians’ group maintains there is “increasing recognition among scientists that animal experiments do not produce the health solutions needed to prevent and protect against disease.” It also insists such experiments have a “dismal success rate” predicting whether the treatments being tested will be successful.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay white coats in the Russian government to torture and kill cats in wasteful treadmill experiments,” Mackie Burr, vice president of the White Coat Waste Project said in a release, adding that the “four Kremlin-run animal testing labs that NIH has authorized to receive our money” should be defunded as part of the sanctions imposed over Ukraine.
Whoever Biden appoints as the next NIH director will likely face congressional investigations looking into these and other agency activities. It is believed by many, for example, that NIH grants to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology may somehow have been involved in the development of the virus commonly known as COVID-19. The connection has not been proven to a certainty but at least one prominent member of Congress, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, has promised to hold hearings investigating what the Wuhan lab did with the money it received from the U.S. should the Republicans regain control of the U.S. Senate after the November 2022 elections.