Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink is under federal investigation for potential breaches of animal-welfare legislation after staff complained that its testing is causing unnecessary suffering and deaths to animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General began the investigation at the request of a federal prosecutor, focusing on violations of the Animal Welfare Act 1966.
Neuralink is developing a brain implant hoping to help people with paralysis, blindness, and other disabilities, and co-founder Musk recently said he hopes that the Neuralink brain chip will be ready for human trials within six months. However, for years, the company has been testing its new technology on more than 1000 animals. It is believed that, since 2018, the company has killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, but many more rats and mice might have been killed too.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in charge of reviewing the company’s applications for approval of its medical device and associated trials, but the USDA is in charge to regulate the company’s treatment of animals during research, based on the Animal Welfare Act.
According to Reuters, current and former Neuralink employees said the number of animal deaths is higher than it needs because of Musk’s demands to speed up research. Reuters identified four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that were marred by human errors and had to be repeated — causing more deaths.
The first complaints about Neuralink tests on animals involved its partnership with the University of California, Davis. In February 2022, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the USDA accusing the Neuralink-UC Davis project of causing unnecessary suffering and deaths to rhesus monkeys. The group alleged that surgeons used the wrong surgical glue twice, which led to two monkeys suffering and ultimately dying.