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Musk Unlikely to See Serious Consequences From Monkey Probe

Why a Department of Agriculture investigation of Neuralink probably won't have a significant impact.
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Elon Musk’s brain-implant venture Neuralink is reportedly facing investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allegations of animal cruelty in its experiments on live animals.

The probe was reported by Reuters and centers on allegations Musk is pressuring researchers to make progress faster, resulting in “hack jobs” on animals used to test implants.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in February said the FDA had agreed to “look into the invasive, fatal monkey experiments funded by Elon Musk’s Neuralink” at the University of California at Davis through 2020. Those experiments involved 23 monkeys, 15 of whom died, the organization said. 

It wasn't clear if the latest probe is an outgrowth of that one, though Neuralink now conducts its experiments at its own facilities in California and Texas.

But regardless of what the probes show, historically animal cruelty fines have not been particularly significant, and certainly of little concern to the world’s richest man.

That's not to say Neuralink isn't sensitive to and defensive about the issue of animal welfare.

In a blog post in February, Neuralink wrote: 

"All animal work done at UC Davis was approved by their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) as mandated by Federal law, and all medical and post-surgical support, including endpoint decisions were overseen by their dedicated and skilled veterinary staff."

It said "notably, Neuralink has never received a citation from the USDA inspections of our facilities and animal care program." It also said it currently houses animals in facilities far larger than the minimum standards set by the FDA. 

Fines Aren't Large

In 2016, the government fined Santa Cruz Biotechnology $3.5 million over alleged violations of the Animal Welfare act. At the time, it was the largest fine in the agency’s history.

The previous largest fine was a $270,000 penalty against the parent company of the now disbanded Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.