WASHINGTON — Two Miami lawmakers joined a bipartisan group demanding answers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after an advocacy group revealed that taxpayer funds paid for research that involved infecting beagle puppies with parasites to test experimental drugs.
Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar signed a letter addressed to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIAID director and public face of the federal government’s COVID-19 response efforts, demanding answers on why drug tests were performed on dogs. They also wanted to know why the U.S. government reportedly received an invoice for a procedure to cut the dogs’ vocal cords during the medical experiments.
“This cruel procedure ... seems to have been performed so that the experimenters would not have to listen to the pained cries of the beagle puppies,” Gimenez and Salazar wrote in a letter that was organized by South Carolina Republican Rep. Nancy Mace and signed by Republicans and Democrats. “This is a reprehensible misuse of taxpayer funds.”
The letter came after the White Coat Waste Project, an advocacy group run by a conservative political consultant that wants to end taxpayer funding of animal experiments, published documents highlighting that NIAID spent taxpayer funds on toxicity tests on beagle puppies.
The bipartisan outcry over the puppy experiments that were funded with NIAID money has prompted a fresh round of Republican attacks on Fauci, who has become a political lightning rod for the conservative movement and the subject of internet conspiracies.
Fauci has led the NIAID since 1984. NIAID is an arm of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, that is responsible for researching diseases.
NIAID said Monday in a statement to the Miami Herald that images of beagle puppies circulating online with their heads enclosed in mesh cases filled with flies was part of an experiment that was not funded by the NIAID, though the agency did fund other experiments with dogs.
“NIAID did not support this specific research shown in the images of the beagles being circulated,” the agency said in a statement. “NIAID has funded a separate project involving the study of a vaccine to prevent leishmaniasis, a serious parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies that poses a threat in particular to U.S. troops and other personnel, as well as U.S. military dogs, in areas where the disease is endemic.”
The NIAID said their funding went to a separate study where 12 dogs were given an experimental vaccine at a research lab in Tunisia and then “let out in an enclosed open space during the day” in area of the country that is susceptible to leishmaniasis. The NIAID grant for the study ended in July, the agency said.
“The goal of the research was to determine if the experimental vaccine prevented the dogs from becoming infected in a natural setting. Developing a vaccine to prevent leishmaniasis is an important research goal,” NIAID said.
NIAID said dogs’ vocal cords were cut during experiments.
“Vocal cordectomies, conducted humanely under anesthesia, may be used in research facilities where numerous dogs are present,” NIAID said. “This is to reduce noise, which is not only stressful to the animals but can also reach decibel levels that exceed OSHA allowable limits for people and can lead to hearing loss.”
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis joined the criticism of NIAID on Monday, bringing up the experiments unprompted during a press conference to tout job growth.
“We know NIH gave money to fund research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. So what they’re doing is they’re taking U.S. tax dollars in China to create super-viruses for humans,” said DeSantis, who hawks anti-Fauci swag on his website. “What else is Fauci and NIH doing?”
Gimenez and Salazar did not respond to a request for comment, though Gimenez tweeted on Monday evening that Fauci should be fired if he knew about the experiments on puppies.
“If all these reports are proven true and Fauci knew about the torture of puppies, he’s got to go. Fired. Out,” Gimenez tweeted. “Taxpayer dollars should not be going towards such atrocities.”
The lawmakers who signed the letter asked NIAID to tell them how many dogs were subject to testing since 2018 and how much money has been spent on testing. They also asked if any of the dogs were put up for adoption instead of being euthanized after testing.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio called for Fauci’s firing last week after the NIH acknowledged that taxpayer funds were used to research bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
“Over the past 18 months, he repeatedly withheld the truth from Americans,” Rubio said in a statement, referring to Fauci. “No one should be surprised that the NIH is now acknowledging that taxpayers did fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan despite Fauci’s repeated claims to the contrary.”
The origins of COVID-19 are still not known, with some scientists arguing that COVID-19 originated in animals before being spread to humans and others asserting that the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Chinese government’s resistance has made it more difficult for scientists to find a definitive answer.
On Sunday, Fauci stressed during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” that the work funded by NIH didn’t constitute gain-of-function research. He also said it is “molecularly impossible” that the coronaviruses researched at the lab would have turned into SARS-CoV-2.
McClatchy DC White House reporter Michael Wilner contributed to this report.