TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Following multiple news organizations covering allegations of animal abuse at Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain chip company, the tech developer issued a statement on its animal welfare policies.

Earlier this month, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine announced lawsuits against the University of California, Davis and Neuralink over its treatment of the macaque monkeys used to test the experimental brain implants developed by Musk’s company.

8 On Your Side reached out to Musk, Neuralink, UC Davis, and Tesla Motors’ Investor Relations to seek comment on the abuse allegations. Only the university responded, telling WFLA that the research partnership between Neuralink and UC Davis ended in 2020, and pushing back on PCRM’s allegations that they had withheld information about the program, and abused the macaques involved.

Records supplied by PCRM from a public records request to UC Davis showed 15 of 23 monkeys experimented on by Neuralink at UC Davis’ California National Primate Research Center had died, and all had a variety of behavioral and physical injuries, prompting the lawsuits by the animal rights group.

Neuralink has published a post to its company blog on Feb. 14, detailing its policies on animal welfare and research, as a direct response to the coverage.

In their response to the allegations, Neuralink said use of research animals is nothing new to the field of “novel medical devices and treatments,” and that as a company, they are “absolutely committed to working with animals in the most humane and ethical way possible.”

While detailing their research process, Neuralink said the process starts with performing the surgeries on animal cadavers first, before graduating to live subjects. The company said while missing digits, fingers, are a common “result of rhesus macaques resolving conflict through aggressive interactions with one another,” no injuries of that type had occurred to any of the monkeys at UC Davis that were part of the Neuralink project.

However, Neuralink did confirm that some of their test subjects were euthanized at the “medical advice of the veterinary staff at UC Davis.”

In particular, one reason mentioned by Neuralink involved a surgical complication with the use of the experimental product BioGlue. Neuralink said all of the work done with the macaques at UC Davis was approved by a committee at the university, as mandated by federal law.

“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,” the Neuralink statement said.

Neuralink said that they plan to improve upon standards set by UC Davis and mandated by the federal government while switching to their own, in-house facilities, but that the work at UC Davis “did and continue[s]” to meet federal regulations. The company operates a 6,000 square foot facility to house farm animals and their macaques, which they moved to in 2020 after the partnership with UC Davis completed.

The tech company said they have never received a citation during inspections from the United States Department of Agriculture for either their facilities or animal care program. Further, Neuralink said when they opened their in-house facility, they “engaged the local United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors to ensure that we would meet and exceed all requirements of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).”

In response to Neuralink’s blog post, PCRM sent WFLA the following statement, alleging that the statement by Musk’s company does not address the pain and distress of the monkeys, nor the “months” of suffering they endured during the testing.

Neuralink’s recent blog post defending its use of 23 monkeys for surgical brain implant experiments doesn’t change the horrific treatment that the public records reveal. Monkeys used by Neuralink at UC Davis did have portions of their skulls removed and devices screwed to their skulls. Neuralink did use a substance called “Bioglue,” which was not approved for use in these experiments and has been widely known to be toxic to nerve tissue since at least 2001. Bioglue came into contact with the surface of at least two monkeys’ brains, causing damage and hemorrhaging; one monkey suffered for days after this damage.

Neuralink claims that the animals it uses are never forced to participate in any training task, but no animal would willingly allow an experimenter to cut a hole in his skull and implant a device and the experiments’ protocol called for restraining monkeys against their will in a chair restraint for up to five hours per day. If an animal didn’t become “acclimated” to restraint, the protocol called for a steel “head-post implant” to be fixed to the animal’s skull, in order to forcibly hold the animals’ heads in place.

In addition, Neuralink’s claim that UC Davis was in compliance with federal animal welfare “standards” is demonstrably false. In 2018, while Neuralink was funding primate experiments at the university, seven infant primates at UC Davis died due to poisoning caused by the negligence of university employees. That same year, UC Davis paid a $5,000 fine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to its pattern of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Lastly, Neuralink’s statement fails to acknowledge the significant pain and distress experienced by monkeys used and killed at UC Davis. In some cases, the animals suffered for months before they were euthanized, according to veterinary records released to the Physicians Committee in 2021.

Reina Pohl, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

8 On Your Side has reached out to UC Davis for a response to the statements from Neuralink.