The FDA spent $10,000 on dog urine two days after the first coronavirus-related death in the United States.
The agency, through the Department of Health and Human Services, funneled $10,000 to the University of California, Davis, for "control dog urine samples" used to measure amino acid levels, according to federal spending disclosures. The contract was awarded on March 2, just two days after Washington state health officials announced the first death from coronavirus in the U.S.
UC Davis advertised the dog urine study online the day after receiving the contract, noting that the results may help "understand the severity and duration of urinary amino acid loss in dogs that develop acquired Fanconi syndrome." Fanconi syndrome is a rare kidney disorder that impacts both animals and humans, though the FDA-funded study does not deal with human cases. The syndrome has been linked to a Chinese pet jerky, according to the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science.
The FDA has faced criticism over coronavirus testing inaction. The agency in early February required private companies and public labs to use CDC-developed test kits instead of allowing labs to develop their own. Despite CDC reassurances, those tests initially malfunctioned, setting U.S. testing capacity and virus response back weeks.
Anthony Bellotti, president and founder of taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, criticized the FDA's response to the global pandemic. He said the agency's spending reflected misplaced priorities, arguing that its canine-related purchases distracted from its mission to protect American citizens.
"Nothing better demonstrates FDA's badly broken bureaucracy than the fact that just days after the first American ... died from COVID-19, it wasted $10,000 on dog urine experiments instead of, say, buying 17,000 respirator masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or just about anything else really," Bellotti told the Washington Free Beacon. "This kind of reckless government spending is one of the reasons why the nation is so ill-prepared to fight the pandemic."
The FDA did not respond to a request for comment.
Government agencies like the FDA and National Institutes of Health have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on animal experimentation and other research, with the NIH alone spending $30 billion on research each year. Examples include experiments on crack-smoking monkeys and studies placing shrimp and turtles on treadmills, according to the White Coat Waste Project. Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) highlighted the turtle-on-a-treadmill study in a March Senate floor speech criticizing the spending decisions.
"To no one's surprise, it turns out that turtles are really, really slow. That's what our tax dollars went to," Ernst said. "In fact, this wasteful study found that turtles moved at nearly the same pace as dead turtles on a treadmill. Aren't you glad that Washington bureaucrats used your hard-earned dollars to conduct this study?"
This is not the first time expensive federal research projects have gotten in the way of disease response efforts. The NIH in 2014 blamed its inability to develop an Ebola vaccine on budget cuts, though the agency spent more than $39 million on questionable research projects in the years leading up to the outbreak. One four-year NIH study exploring why the majority of lesbians are obese cost nearly $3 million. Another $2 million was spent promoting the health benefits of joining a community choir. The NIH went on to give $8.6 million to a Baltimore-based lab to research and test its Ebola vaccine.
In response to the agency's history of questionable expenditures, the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill signed by President Trump included an independent oversight panel to track wasteful spending under the bill, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) applauded the inclusion following the bill's passage.
"As Chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, I am very pleased that the bill includes important provisions to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently, as well as dedicated funding and enhanced authorities for Inspectors General and the independent Government Accountability Office to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in the government spending that will happen under this bill," she said in a statement.