A 2018 challenge to government animal experimenters: find your own funding

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I founded the taxpayer watchdog group, White Coat Waste Project, to stop upwards of $20 billion in wasteful and cruel government-funded experiments on dogs, cats, primates and other animals.

But I don’t want to ban a single animal test. I want to defund them.

{mosads}The growing majority of Americans who oppose animal testing might be surprised to learn that Uncle Sam spends over twice as much on animal tests as every pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device company combined. The National Institutes of Health — just one of many agencies conducting and funding animal experiments — spends about half of its $32 billion budget on animal testing.


Despite this enormous investment of taxpayers’ money, government-funded animal testing isn’t driving medical innovation. In a commentary last year, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Thomas Stossel explained, “The private economy, not the government, actually discovers and develops most of the insights and products that advance health.” Stossel wrote that, “Eighty-five percent of the drugs approved by the FDA since 1988 arose solely from research and development performed within the industry.”

Big government outspends the private sector two-to-one on animal testing and defends it as “essential to developing crucial medical advancements,” but ultimately contributes to few practical breakthroughs. This doesn’t add up.  

Controversial experiments on dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs provide a glimpse into the problem — but also point to a solution.

Right now, the VA doles out more than $1,600 to purchase 6-month-old beagles, hounds or mixed-breed dogs. The white coats at the VA then spend hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars to surgically induce heart attacks by injecting latex into the puppies’ arteries and then stressing their damaged hearts by forcing them to run on a treadmill. Congress members have noted that some of the experiments are placed in the government’s “maximum pain” category because the dogs’ pain and distress are left unrelieved. The VA then sticks a needle in them, cuts their hearts out and tosses their bodies in the trash.

As many veterans’ groups have pointed out, the VA has scant evidence that these heart attack tests or its 10 or so active painful dog experimentation projects actually help veterans. This inefficiency is consistent with the government’s own alarming statistic that 90 percent of drugs that pass animal tests fail in humans, “resulting in much wasted time and money while patients wait for therapies.”

It turns out that the only 21st century innovation the VA claims any of its dog testing has contributed to — the artificial pancreas for treating Type 1 diabetes — was entirely industry-funded.

The private sector, which spends much less than government on animal testing and is responsible for the lion’s share of medical innovation, is clearly a better judge of what’s a good investment than government bureaucrats for whom, as one of the world’s top Alzheimer’s disease researchers puts it, animal testing “has become a perpetually blooming money tree.” Unlike industry, government doesn’t worry about return on investment, so it has no incentive to innovate or to cut wasteful spending.

As Dr. Stossel wrote in the aforementioned op-ed, “Washington-centric research … might slow progress.” Public health experts even concluded in a British Medical Journal cover feature a few years ago that, “The public’s continuing endorsement and funding of preclinical animal research seems misplaced.”

We agree, and so does Congress. This past summer, the House of Representatives — in an effort led by economist Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) — voted unanimously to cut federal funding for the VA’s wasteful and painful dog experiments.

Secretary David Shulkin has said the VA should “operate more like the private sector.” So, let the VA’s dog experimenters compete in the marketplace. Let them pitch Wall Street, Big Pharma, Silicon Valley, perhaps launch a Kickstarter campaign or have a bake sale. Venture capitalists, hedge fund managers and biotech entrepreneurs are investing billions every year in biomedical research.

If the VA can’t raise the money for its dog experiments without federal subsidies, that tells us everything we need to know.

This should resonate with every single Congress member who voted to repeal ObamaCare. After all, if you don’t support “socialized medicine,” why would you support socialized “medical research” at the VA?

Our new year’s challenge to the VA’s animal experimenters and other government “white coats” who poke, prod and poison dogs: find your own funding.

Anthony Bellotti is the founder and president of White Coat Waste Project, a watchdog group working to end federally-funded animal experiments. Bellotti previously was executive director of the American Association of Political Consultants and worked as a strategist on Republican candidate and issue campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @WhiteCoatWaste.

Tags Animal testing Animal welfare Bioethics David Shulkin Dog Health Medical research

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