Elon Musk's Neuralink faces backlash and federal investigation over animal teststext_fields
Elon Musk's medical device company Neuralink is under federal investigation for animal-welfare violations. There have been internal staff complaints and backlash over animal testing of the technology being rushed which causes needless suffering and deaths.
The US Department of Agriculture's Inspector General recently opened the investigation at the request of a federal prosecutor. Sources revealed that the probe will focus on violations of the Animal Welfare Act which oversees how researchers treat animals and test on them, reported Reuters.
Neuralink is developing a brain implant that is aimed at helping paralysed people walk and cure other neurological ailments. Musk recently said it will be available soon.
A review of documents and interviews with over 20 current and former employees done by Reuters found that Musk is pressuring staff to accelerate the development of the implants. The CEO is forcing staff to repeat failed tests and increasing the number of animals being tested and killed. This has led to employee dissent in the company. It is unclear whether the federal investigation is over the same alleged problems.
Regulatory filings show that Neuralink has passed all the USDA inspections of its facilities. The US regulatory body does not specify how many animals companies can use for research and give leeway to scientists on how to use animals in experiments.
According to records, Neuralink has killed around 1,500 animals including over 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys since 2018. However, the company does not keep precise records. The numbers are based on a rough estimate. Rats and mice are also used in experiments.
The number of animal deaths does not necessarily indicate regulatory violations because animals are often killed when the experiment is completed so that they can be examined post-mortem for research. But employees say the number of animal deaths is higher than it needs to be. A message written by an employee seen by Reuters said that the rushed schedule is resulting in under-prepared and over-stressed staff. This results in more human errors because they are struggling to meet deadlines and are forced to make last-minute changes.
According to three sources, Musk told employees to imagine they had a bomb strapped to their heads as a motivation to work faster. He also indirectly threatened to shut down operations unless employees made progress. Many have been advocating internally for a more traditional testing approach that minimises risk to animals. They were told it is not possible due to Musk's demands.