Congress must investigate news taxpayer-funded EcoHealth covered up yet more in Wuhan lab
Written by Antony Bellotti | Originally posted by the New York Post
Dangerous, taxpayer-funded gain-of-function animal experiments are at the center of the debate about COVID’s origins. Members of Congress are calling for a new investigation into what they call the “mice death cover-up” by the shady nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Documents the White Coat Waste Project obtained via the Freedom of Information Act revealed last year that in 2016, staffers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases expressed concerns about EcoHealth’s proposed coronavirus engineering experiments on humanized mice at WIV. NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s division of the National Institutes of Health, worried that EcoHealth’s animal experiments ran afoul of the government’s moratorium on gain-of-function research — the practice of manipulating viruses to make them more transmissible, more lethal and more dangerous.
Instead of stopping the project, however, NIAID offered EcoHealth the chance to create its own policy governing the dangerous research, then allowed the planned animal experiments to proceed. E-mails we obtained through FOIA show that EcoHealth’s president, Peter Daszak, responded, “This is terrific! We are very happy to hear that our Gain of Function research funding pause has been lifted.”
EcoHealth promised NIAID it would stop its experiments, and immediately report, if the coronaviruses it engineered showed viral growth greater than 10 times that of the original virus. The novel coronaviruses did get more dangerous, with viral growth 10,000 times greater than that of the original virus, and made mice very sick. We now know that EcoHealth did not properly report the increased virulence — in violation of its self-imposed grant terms.
Now, House investigators, led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), have revealed that EcoHealth seems to have hidden far more data than previously known. Her letter to NIH notes that EcoHealth reported that its infected mice had only “mild” clinical symptoms when, in reality, the infection had a 75% death rate.
EcoHealth apparently obscured the fact that its experiments caused an alarming increase in mouse deaths by deleting the word “dead” from the phrase “dead point” on a graph, though it appeared in earlier reports. Its omission made it look as though mice were simply carrying more of the virus, rather than dying in droves.
An honest accounting of EcoHealth’s dangerous animal experiments would have raised red flags among the scientific community. The congressional letter notes that “animal welfare regulations suggest that it would be unethical to withhold or delay reporting the death data. The WIV and EcoHealth could have, and should have, reported the death data.” Investigators suggest that EcoHealth’s omission was not accidental and was “intended to deceive . . . peer reviewers.” Had they known what was actually going on, reviewers likely “would have wanted to stop such risky research and not continue EcoHealth’s funding.”
Despite its habitual misbehavior, EcoHealth avoided scrutiny because of staggeringly lax oversight by the white coats at NIH. Indeed, the lawmakers mention, “In addition to gain-of-function research concerns, it appears NIH approved an animal experiment without knowing the number of animals that would be involved and potentially harmed.”
WIV continued receiving NIH funding even after State Department officials in China warned Washington in 2018 about the lab’s inadequate safety protocols, ominously noting that the lab could unleash “a new SARS-like pandemic” on the world. These warnings, however, did nothing to stem the flow of taxpayer money into Wuhan.
The NIH clearly cannot perform basic oversight of the international animal labs it funds. This may be because there are so many of them: 357 animal labs in 53 countries are eligible to receive taxpayer dollars from the NIH.
Two years after we first exposed NIH funding for Wuhan’s white coats, lawmakers are addressing the threat of unchecked — and uncheckable — foreign animal experiments. The 2022 fiscal year National Defense Authorization Act included language preventing the Pentagon from funding EcoHealth’s experiments in China.
Just last week, the Senate approved a motion by Rand Paul (R-Ky.) banning taxpayer-funded gain-of-function experiments in China. These are encouraging victories for common sense and public health, and other legislative proposals cracking down on foreign animal experiments are on the table.
Outbreaks of disease will happen again. That does not, however, mean we must continue flirting with disaster by wasting taxpayer money on irresponsible, oversight-free international animal experiments. The NIH’s reckless spending must be brought to heel — before US taxpayers fund yet another pandemic.
Anthony Bellotti is the founder and president of White Coat Waste Project, a taxpayer watchdog group.