Elon Musk’s Neuralink Corp, which specializes in implanting brain chips, is facing a federal investigation into alleged “animal rights violations” during product trials.
It comes just days after the billionaire announced a new schedule for human clinical trials.
The USDA Inspector General launched an investigation sometime in “recent months” after federal prosecutors said Neuralink may be violating the Animal Welfare Act, the report said, citing government documents and several people familiar with the investigation.
The Animal Welfare Act regulates the treatment of certain animals used in research and testing of commercial products and prohibits acts of inhumanity that cause unnecessary suffering or death.
According to more than 20 current and former Neuralink employees, as well as dozens of internal company documents, Musk pushed his private company’s researchers to “speed up the development process,” leading to “experiment failures” in some cases.
“Such failed tests had to be repeated, increasing the number of animals tested and killed,” officials told Reuters, adding that the number of animal deaths was higher than it should be “for reasons related to Musk’s demands to speed up the search.” ”
And at least four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys have been “tainted” by “human error” in recent years, meaning the tests had to be done again, resulting in more animal deaths. The staff added that the errors were due to “insufficient training of the test crew working under high pressure conditions.”
And while regulatory filings show that Neuralink has passed all previous federal audits, sources told Reuters the company doesn’t keep accurate records of how many animals it kills during testing. The full scope of the USDA investigation is not yet clear, and it is not known if the investigation is directly related to complaints filed by Neuralink employees.
Reports of the ongoing investigation come just days after Musk announced that U.S. regulators could soon approve human trials of Neuralink brain implants, saying human trials could begin in as little as six months. The exact timing remains unclear as Musk has previously hinted at upcoming human trials.
The billionaire businessman hoped implanting brain chips would allow the paralyzed to walk again and the blind to regain their sight, among other medical miracles. While the new technology has yet to be tested in humans, Musk has demonstrated the brain chip on numerous occasions, including at an April 2021 presentation where a monkey allegedly played a video game using only its brain.