Watchdog groups are pressuring Congress to stop awarding taxpayer funds to foreign labs, including the controversial Chinese institute at the center of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Congress approving a temporary spending package to keep the federal government operating throughout the end of the year, several watchdog groups are concerned that taxpayer funds will be allocated to a range of foreign labs via the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The most notable U.S.-funded lab is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese Communist Party-controlled entity that is suspected of conducting research that led to the coronavirus outbreak.
"Foreign government-controlled laboratories should not be eligible to receive U.S. taxpayer dollars while they disregard our policies, dodge congressional oversight, or act against our national interest," seven watchdog organizations led by the White Coat Waste Project wrote in a letter sent Friday to lawmakers on the House and Senate appropriations committees.
"The National Institutes of Health, with little accountability to Congress or the [Biden] administration, continues to authorize funding for animal experimentation laboratories directly controlled by foreign adversaries that act contrary to the national interest of the United States," the groups wrote.
While some in Congress—like Reps. Lisa McClain (R., Mich.), Nancy Mace (R., S.C.), and some of their Republican colleagues—are casting a critical eye on the foreign-funded labs, NIH is pushing for taxpayer funding and defending the work carried out by some of the United States’ top enemies.
NIH officials, the groups write, "are actively monitoring and pushing back against congressional efforts to defund risky gain-of-function experiments in China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology." This type of research, which boosts a virus’s lethality for research purposes, is believed to have laid the foundation for the coronavirus that eventually spilled into the general population. A Republican investigative body determined in October that the most likely cause of the pandemic was a lab leak, potentially from the Wuhan institute.
Currently, NIH is permitted to fund labs operating in "foreign adversary nations" like Russia and China, according to the watchdog groups. U.S.-funded labs in Russia, for instance, are under congressional scrutiny for conducting "horrific and barbaric" experiments on animals that include cutting out portions of their brains.
Though the war in Ukraine has increased pressure on NIH to end its partnerships with these labs, the federal agency has leeway in how taxpayer funds are spent. The Biden administration said in June that it wants to cut U.S. funding for Russian labs, but NIH will not say if it will comply with this request.
"NIH bureaucrats make the final call and continue to fund these animal labs without regard for the American taxpayer," the groups wrote. "Meanwhile, taxpayers have repeatedly indicated their support for withholding those funds—71 percent of respondents to a recent poll indicated that they support federal legislation to restrict animal testing in countries that are adversaries of the United States."
Legislation circulating in the House would formalize prohibitions on taxpayer funds spent at foreign labs. One measure under consideration by the House Appropriations Committee blocks federal funds from being "made available to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or any other laboratory located in a country determined … to be a foreign adversary, including China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran." Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine and Chinese ongoing efforts to obfuscate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic have made it likely these types of provisions will garner bipartisan backing.
The White Coat Waste Project and other groups backing the letter are asking that similar provisions be included in the most recent federal spending bill.
Tristan Daedalus, the White Coat Waste Project’s government affairs director, said taxpayers are overwhelmingly opposed to funding these types of foreign research.
"We shouldn’t be forced to bankroll dangerous, cruel, and wasteful animal experiments in places like Wuhan and St. Petersburg," Daedalus said. "Yet, as our government watchdog first exposed, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and 30 other animal labs in Russia and China are still currently authorized to receive U.S. taxpayer dollars via the National Institutes of Health."