Rosenberg: Several US groups expose inhumane and frivolous animal experiments but your new group White Coat Waste Project specifically focuses on government-funded animal research.
Bellotti: Yes. $12 billion of tax-payer money a year goes to animal experimentation and the government is the largest funder of animal research in the US. Yet the public is largely unaware of the waste, fraud and abuse, not to mention the cost. The White Coat Waste Project is a watchdog group exposing what goes on in the government's animal laboratories on the public's dime. If it's not paid for by your taxes, it's not part of our mission.
Rosenberg: Do you have first-hand experience with animal research?
Bellotti: Between junior and senior years of high school, in the 1990s, I worked as an intern in an animal lab at a hospital in Manhattan. For seven weeks I witnessed experiments on pigs, beagles, rats, monkeys and more. I went through what I think a lot of people go through when they encounter animal research. First, you experience "shock and awe" at what is actually permitted and legal. I remember thinking, this is one of the good labs--I hate to think what the bad labs are doing. Then you kind of pull back within yourself and think, "I don't want to make waves." Finally, you decide you will fight back and speak out which is why I founded White Coat Waste Project.
Rosenberg: Exposing animal research is a tough mission. Twenty years ago, we heard of lab break-ins and rescues but today research facilities are triple fortified and some have been put underground. The other tough part is--animal research is always given a scientific mystique. The public is told we can't judge it but it is benefiting us.
Bellotti: Right--"we know how to spend your money better than you do" is the attitude. But what the government spends on animal research and what experiments it funds are public information. The public has the right to know about the 31 years its tax dollars have funded Professor Marilyn Carroll at the University of Minnesota who forcibly addicts animals to illegal street drugs.