by Justin Goodman
Congress has united in condemnation of Russia and in support of Ukraine. Now, a group of federal lawmakers led by Michigan Congressmember Lisa McClain (R-MI) is working to ensure that no more American tax dollars are sent to Vladimir Putin’s cruel and wasteful animal laboratories.
Our taxpayer watchdog organization, White Coat Waste Project (WCW), recently discovered that the National Institutes of Health sent over $770,000 to the Kremlin-run Pavlov Institute of Physiology in St. Petersburg, Russia, where it was used to torture cats. On taxpayers’ dime, Putin’s white coats ‘decerebrated’ 18 healthy cats and then forced them to walk on treadmills. (“Decerebration” is a procedure in which experimenters render animals unconscious, sever their brain stems, and remove pieces of their brains while they are alive, essentially turning them into zombies). The decerebrated cats had electrodes implanted into their spines, were suspended over treadmills, and repeatedly electrocuted to simulate walking, like ghoulish, grotesque marionettes.
WCW’s report generated broad congressional concern about NIH’s reckless Russian spending, especially since the experiments were not performed in the distant past — they were funded as recently as 2021. Rep. Lisa McClain, along with 28 bipartisan colleagues, sent a letter to the heads of the House subcommittee that controls the NIH’s budget, requesting a prohibition on funding animal labs in Russia. Her letter stated that “Russian laboratories should not be receiving U.S. taxpayer dollars—nor be eligible to receive taxpayer dollars—while the country is despicably trying to overthrow, by military force, the government of our sovereign democratic ally, Ukraine.” We agree.
Astonishingly, four Russian government labs are actively certified by the NIH to receive taxpayer funds specifically for animal experiments. Inclusion of Rep. McClain’s request in the NIH’s 2023 spending bill will be a victory for cats, national security, and taxpayers.
In addition to the her bipartisan letter, Rep. McClain has also introduced the Accountability in Foreign Animal Research (AFAR) Act, which would prevent any American tax dollars from funding animal experiments in countries deemed ‘foreign adversaries.’ That is not a term of art: in 2021, the Department of Commerce designated China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea as “foreign adversaries.” Despite the designation by Commerce, however, the NIH has continued funding animal experiments in China and Russia. Remember that dangerous coronavirus experiments on humanized mice at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, funded by the NIH, may have triggered the Covid pandemic. Rep. McClain’s bill is a common-sense solution to the NIH’s nonsensical spending.
Government waste is nothing new, but underwriting the Russian government’s animal labs is a travesty. It is also strongly opposed by the American people, with a recent poll from Lincoln Park Strategies finding that 76% of Americans supported canceling grants to Russian animal laboratories. Similarly, an October 2021 poll found that 64% of Americans supported a prohibition on funding animal experiments in countries deemed ‘adversaries.’
Rep. McClain and her colleagues deserve applause for working across the aisle to put common-sense guardrails on NIH’s reckless spending, and to prevent our tax dollars from finding their way into Kremlin-linked institutions — especially ones that abuse animals.
The best time to stop funding Russian labs was years ago. The second-best time is now.
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Justin Goodman is the Senior Vice President at White Coat Waste Project.