Rosenberg: Several US groups expose inhumane and frivolous animal experiments but your new group White Coat Waste Project specifically focuses on government-funded animal research.
Bellotti: Yes. $12 billion of tax-payer money a year goes to animal experimentation and the government is the largest funder of animal research in the US. Yet the public is largely unaware of the waste, fraud and abuse, not the mention cost. The White Coat Waste Project is a watchdog group exposing what goes on in government’s animal laboratories on the public's dime. If it’s not paid for by your taxes, it’s not part of our mission.
Rosenberg: Do you have first-hand experience with animal research?
Bellotti: Between junior and senior years of high school, in the 1990s, I worked as an intern in an animal lab at a hospital in Manhattan. For seven weeks I witnessed experiments on pigs, beagles, rats, monkeys and more. I went through what I think a lot of people go through when they encounter animal research. First, you experience "shock and awe" at what is actually permitted and legal. I remember thinking, this is one of the good labs--I hate to think what the bad labs are doing. Then you kind of pull back within yourself and think, "I don't want to make waves." Finally, you decide you will fight back and speak out which is why I founded White Coat Waste Project.
Rosenberg: Exposing animal research is a tough mission. Twenty years ago, we heard of lab break-ins and rescues but today research facilities are triple fortified and some have been put underground. The other tough part is--animal research is always given a scientific mystique. The public is told we can't judge it but it is benefiting us.
Bellotti: Right--"we know how to spend your money better than you do" is the attitude. Yet the public has the right to know what is done with a staggering amount of its money--and we will soon be launching "Waste of the Week" to show appalling examples of government waste. What the government spends on animal research and what experiments it funds are public information and we will soon be publicizing it.
Rosenberg: Why does cruel and stupid government-funded research persist? For over 30 years, the University of Minnesota's to Marilyn Carroll has addicted animals to street drugs. $3.6 million of our tax dollars in the last decade went to studying how heroin, crystal meth and Angel Dust affect menstruating monkeys. No tax-payers or scientists who aren’t in on the money could defend this kind of waste.
Bellotti: What happens is the research grows, becomes entrenched and produces its own constituents and lobbyists. The universities and researchers who get this money think its their not ours and that they are entitled to it. There are huge incentives and the programs grow bigger each year.
Rosenberg: Sounds like scientific "pork"!
Bellotti: Yes. The universities and researchers are given a blank check and do not even have to defend the research or cite anything of value it has produced. For years, mice were consider miniature human beings and now we know that most mouse-based research has no applicability to humans and has been pretty worthless.
Rosenberg: National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins always professes his spirituality and God-centeredness. Yet millions of animal die under his watch. NIH's new brain initiative will only increase the toll.
Bellotti: NIH projects including the new brain initiative are investments of public money. We are entitled to a return on our investments. What was spent, what is being done to animals, what do tax-payers get out of this? These are the questions the White Coat Waste Project will highlight.
Rosenberg: Animal research is so disturbing. Dogs having their vocal cords removed so they won't bark in pain, primates are put in plastic tubes so they won't move during invasive experiments. Cats are blinded and deafened. Is there any good news?
Bellotti: Yes. Public attitudes are changing and changing very rapidly about animal research. In a short period of time the percent of Americans who approve of animal research has fallen from 70 percent to 54 percent. This year, NIH announced it would phase out chimpanzee research, no doubt hearing public sentiment. The problem is that the NIH's budget for animal research is growing despite changing public attitudes.
Rosenberg: How will the White Coat Waste Project let people know about tax-payer waste?
Bellotti: We will find and ferret out the most egregious tax-payer funded animal research. We will publicize and advertise the waste in digital and other media. Finally, we will build lobbying coalitions with concerned groups. This is both a humane and a fiscal issue. You don't have to care at all about animals to see what a waste $12 billion a year is--especially in these economic times. There has probably never been a time of greater focus on federal budgets and this is a clear example of waste that can be cut and cut now.
Do you care about govenment fraud and animal treatment? Give Martha Rosenberg's award-cited, Random House expose, Born with a Junk Food Deficiency, for the holidays! Includes 30 cartoons.