Throughout the latter half of 2021, the taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project (WCW) released announcements that it had exposed several government-funded “cruel and unusual” research projects that tested potential vaccines and drug therapeutics on beagles, which collectively cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In all cases, WCW pointed blame at Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), whom the group posited as having given the final approval to fund the projects.
Snopes readers asked our team to focus our investigation on three of the studies in question, which included research conducted at the University of Georgia Research Foundation (UGR) the nonprofit research institute SRI International, and by scientists in Tunisia.
The allegations began in July 2021, when the Republican-led animal rights advocacy group published a report that claimed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, approved funding from taxpayer dollars to conduct “painful experiments” on beagles.
WCW claimed in its July 30 report that Fauci, in an attempt to advance a human vaccine for a parasitic disease called lymphatic filariasis, “spent $424,000 to commission a study in which healthy beagles are given an experimental drug and then intentionally infested with flies that carry a disease-causing parasite that affects humans.” The findings of the WCW investigation were subsequently reported in publications like Fox News and conservative-leaning outlets such as RT, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and The Patriot Project.
Fauci Agency Tested Experimental Drug on Beagles, Cruel Experiment Had Dogs in Obvious Pain https://t.co/z4Re5aMh34
— Tea Party Patriots (@TPPatriots) August 15, 2021
In October 2021, Republican U.S. House Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina tweeted a letter she sent to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, referencing documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request from WCW. WCW claimed that from October 2018 to February 2019, Fauci “ordered cruel and unusual drug toxicity tests on dogs… that cost taxpayers $1.68 million.”
Yesterday, I sent a letter to Dr. Fauci regarding cruel, taxpayer-funded experiments on puppies; debarking before drugging and killing them. Thankful to my 23 democrat and republican colleagues who signed on. This is disgusting. What say you @NIH pic.twitter.com/c54SXipD9Q
— Rep. Nancy Mace (@RepNancyMace) October 23, 2021
In a third report, WCW claimed that NIAID funded more than $375,000 to conduct a study that again used beagles as test subjects in experiments involving sand flies that the organization described as “torture.”
Snopes contacted WCW and obtained copies of documents reportedly obtained via separate Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the organization. Claims of Fauci funding the “torture” of dogs circulated and recirculated in Fall 2021 and are largely based on two studies funded by the NIAID that did, indeed, involve using beagles as test subjects.
We break those claims down below, but first, a closer look at the organization behind the reports.
What Is the White Coat Waste Project?
Founded in 2013, WCW is a watchdog group that is self-described as representing more than 2 million “liberty lovers and animal-lovers” who oppose using taxpayer dollars to support experiments on animals. It is not a traditional animal advocacy group but instead devotes its efforts to denouncing what it characterizes as wasted government funds spent on testing.
In 2016, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported that the Washington, D.C.-based organization is the “brainchild” of former Republican strategist Anthony Bellotti.
“His opposition to animal research began in 1995, when, in the summer between high school and college, he worked in a hospital laboratory that was conducting heart studies on pigs and witnessed experiments he saw as cruel. After he became a political consultant, he hit upon the idea of framing such research as a waste of taxpayer money,” wrote AAAS.
Study 1: SRI Testing of Potential HIV Therapeutic, 2018-2019
Following the UGR investigation into the lymphatic filariasis studies, a spokesperson for WCW told Snopes that in August 2021, the watchdog group also requested documents related to toxicity testing on beagles “commissioned by Anthony Fauci’s [NIAID].”
Snopes read through the file to verify the claims made in the WCW report specific to NIH contract number HHSN272201400006I, which was described in a government database as “preclinical development services for AIDS therapeutics” with SRI International, a California-based nonprofit scientific research institute. According to the government fiduciary site USA Spending, a $1.1 million grant was awarded to the organization by DHHS on behalf of the NIAID. The study was listed to begin July 15, 2020, and wrap up by Dec. 24, 2021, and included testing on small animals for therapeutics to treat HIV as well as Hepatitis B and C viruses.
“The request returned 1,438 pages of documents describing ‘wasteful and unnecessary drug toxicity tests on beagle puppies,’” a WCW spokesperson told Snopes. The documents are hosted on our site at the link below.
The records outlined several studies involving both rats and beagles. The documents outline both the proposed study design as well as the actual results of the study, the latter of which resulted in 40 beagles between the ages of 8 and 9 months being administered oral and subcutaneous (under the skin) doses of an unnamed HIV therapeutic between September 2018 and October 2019.
It is true that all dogs were euthanized following the study and their organs were analyzed for potential toxicity from the drugs.
It is also true that the dogs vocal cords were “cut out.” In an statement emailed to MedPage Today, NIAID told the publication that the contract for “preclinical pharmacology and toxicology services” was conducted “as required in animal models by the FDA, in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) guidelines and in a facility accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) or its equivalent.”
“Vocal cordectomies, conducted humanely under anesthesia, may be used in research facilities where numerous dogs are present,” the statement 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.”
The housing and care of the beagles at the time of the study was in accordance with the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, while welfare requirements were met in accordance with regulations established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare.
“Every effort will be made to minimize , if not eliminate, pain and suffering in all animals in this study. Moribund animals and animals experiencing undue pain and suffering will be euthanized at the discretion of the Study Director, attending veterinarian, or other qualified person. The Study Director will make every effort to protect the scientific validity of the study,” read the document.
While at least some of the funding was provided by NIAID, it is still unclear whether Fauci personally signed off on approving the research.
Study 2: University of Georgia Testing of Lymphatic Filariasis, November 2020
Claims of Fauci ordering the funding of therapeutic testing on beagles originated with a 38-page FOIA request submitted by WCW and shared publicly in July. Those are hosted in this Dropbox folder and have been archived on our site:
Snopes read through the document, and our analysis confirmed that obligated funds were issued to the UGR by the NIH in the amount of $424,555 to determine the efficacy of a potential vaccine for lymphatic filariasis on beagle test subjects. A contract shared online by the U.S. government defined the research as: “PRE-CLINICAL MODELS OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES; TASK C12 LYMPHATIC FILARIASIS VACCINE (LFGUARD) EFFICACY TRIAL IN DOGS.”
Research conducted on behalf of NIAID is funded in large part through annual funds allocated by Congress and the president, though direct projects may be signed off on by various leaders within NIH. However, there is no evidence that the grant was personally approved by Fauci and there is no mention of him in the FOIA documentation. All that we can definitively say is that at least some of the money came from NIH.
Neither the NIH nor UGR responded to Snopes’ requests to verify the documents published by WCW, but a spokesperson for WCW sent our team a letter, written by NIAID Government Information Specialist Lauren Bartok in response to the FOIA request under case number 55876. The letter referenced the experimental documents obtained by WCW, confirming that the experiments took place.
As with the first study, personal and proprietary information had been removed from the document, including the name of the vaccine and experiment objectives. The files did note that the contractor (UGR) was to acquire “healthy, adult beagle dogs” to “administer different formulations [presumably of vaccine] to dogs via the intramuscular route.”
“Each set of experiments will use 14 dogs, which total 28 dogs at completion of the study (7 dogs in each group),” read the statement of work.
Studies began in mid-November 2020 at which point the “pathogen-free adult beagle dogs” were scheduled to receive a total of three doses on days 0, 28, and 56. Throughout the study, researchers were instructed to monitor the dogs’ health twice daily and collect blood and urine samples.
A first dose of the vaccine was administered on Nov. 12 with a second-round given on Dec. 17 “without incident with one important exception.” That exception was four dogs in the so-named “blue” group reported as having “vocalized in pain upon administration.” After a physical examination five days later, the four dogs were observed as being “bright, alert, and responsive.”
A third and final round was administered on Jan. 14, 2021, also without incident but with “one important exception.” Half of the animals in the “blue” group again “vocalized in pain upon administration.” A week later, they were once gain deemed “bright, alert and responsive.” Emails sent between the researchers were included in the FOIA documents and confirmed that only the “blue” group showed a “consistent pain response.”
The research is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 15, 2022, and all animals “will be euthanized after day 196,” read the FOIA document.
The UGR contract noted the vaccine was for lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne parasitic infection, caused by microscopic, thread-like worms. When inside of their human hosts, these filarial worms live in the human lymph system and can cause elephantiasis and, in men, a condition called hydrocele that causes the swelling of the scrotum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Lymphatic filariasis affects an estimated 120 million people worldwide with another 1.2 billion at risk of infection, wrote researchers in 2014. Currently, there is no vaccine available for human cases, though treatment typically consists of chemotherapy and multiple drug therapies.
But as the White Coat Project reported, vaccines for the disease have been tested in mice — and were shown to be 90% effective — and macaques (70% effective). In fact, at least 27 related animal experiments have been conducted since the 1940s on filarial worms. While WCW deemed the experiments “cruel and unnecessary” and claimed that some of the dogs were “bitten to death,” the NIH contends that all research involving animals is overseen by the agency’s Office of Laboratory Welfare to ensure it is conducted ethically.
“All animals used in NIH-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies that ensure the smallest number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare,” notes the agency on its website.
Furthermore, no evidence was put forward showing that the dogs were subject to biting, let alone “bitten to death.” If any such information was included in the FOIA document, it has since been redacted.
In an interview with Newsweek, Greg Trevor, associate vice president for marketing and communications at UGR, confirmed that the research was for a potential vaccine that was developed and another institution. In an emailed statement, Trevor reportedly told the publication that “under federal rules, a vaccine must be tested in two animal species before it can be cleared for human clinical trials.” NIAID decided to fund this research and that it needed to be conducted on a dog model, of which beagles are the “standard.”
“Because this disease currently has no cure, unfortunately, the animals that are part of this trial must be euthanized. We do not take lightly the decision to use such animals in some of our research,” Trevor reportedly told the publication.
Study 3: Study Transmission of Leishmaniasis in Dogs, Tunisia, July 2021
The third study took place in Tunisia and analyzed whether a species of sand fly (Phlebotomus perniciosus) was noticeably attracted to beagles who were infected with Leishmania infantum, the parasite that causes the skin disease leishmaniasis. Sand flies are the main vector of L. infantum and dogs are the main host and reservoir of the disease.
Though the research took place, NIAID did not fund the study and the journal that published the study, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, issued a correction after reporting that the federal agency did support the study.
“The manuscript mistakenly cited support from NIAID, when in fact NIAID did not support this specific research shown in the images of the beagles being circulated,” NIAID told Politifact.
PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases confirmed to MedPage Today that the mistake was made and posted a correction online, adding that NIAID “did not provide any funding for this research and any such claim was made in error.”
Following the Federal Dollars
Research conducted on behalf of NIAID is funded in large part through congressional and executive actions deciding how to allocate taxpayer dollars. These annual allocations are then signed off on by the sitting president.
NIAID funding for the fiscal year 2021 was awarded $5.4 billion by then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020. The following year, President Joe Biden requested an increase of $178.9 million, or 2.9% compared with the fiscal year 2021 enacted level, for a total of $6.2 billion to be awarded in the fiscal year 2022. It is true that research conducted at UGR and SRI International was at least in part funded by NIAID with taxpayer dollars, though it is unclear whether such allocations were personally approved by Fauci.
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