Two U.S. House Representatives, Earl Francis Blumenauer and Adam Schiff, both Democrats, have requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the make-up of a panel overseeing animal testing at Elon Musk’s brain-chip startup Neuralink. The lawmakers have shared the draft letter with peers to gather more signatures and plan to send it to the USDA on Monday. The draft is in response to a May 4 Reuters report that revealed that Neuralink filled its oversight board with company employees who stand to benefit financially from the start-up securing regulatory approval for its novel brain chip. The panel approved experiments that resulted in the unnecessary deaths and suffering of animals, according to Reuters. A spokesperson for Blumenauer said the USDA did not respond to an earlier request from lawmakers for a probe into Neuralink in the wake of that story.
The draft letter states that “Congress has a significant interest in ensuring that all facilities using animals in research and testing — whether they are government-run, universities, or private companies — comply with the minimal standards of the Animal Welfare Act.”
Neuralink faces federal probes
Neuralink has already been the subject of federal probes. Reuters reported on December 5 that the USDA’s Inspector General was investigating, at the request of a federal prosecutor, potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how researchers treat and test certain types of animals. This probe has also been looking at the USDA’s oversight of Neuralink.
The US Department of Transportation said in February it was investigating Neuralink over the movement of hazardous pathogens. An agency spokesperson said this probe is continuing, without providing details.
USDA inspectors visited Neuralink’s California and Texas facilities in January in response to Reuters’ reporting and the queries of lawmakers, but found no issues, Reuters reported last week.
Neuralink has been attempting to secure clearance to advance to human trials after a prior attempt was rejected last year by the Food and Drug Administration due to safety concerns. Elon Musk and Neuralink representatives, and spokespeople for the USDA and the agency’s inspector general, did not respond to requests for comment.
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