New photos show the “filth” and unsafe conditions in which an illegal Chinese-owned lab in California carried out risky research on mice genetically altered to carry COVID-19, according to records obtained by a conservative legal group.
The Fresno County Public Health Department revealed the “hazardous and non-compliant conditions” of the illicit lab, which kept SARS-CoV-2 and other “infectious agents.”
The stunning assessment was found in responsive documents from a California Public Records Act request made by Judicial Watch.
“Americans should know that dangerous biological research doesn’t just occur in ‘Wuhan,’ it is happening all over the United States,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
The 29-page report revealed that the research facility, operated by Chinese nationals through a company called Prestige BioTech, was repeatedly hit with safety violations at two locations in Fresno County between 2020 and 2023.
One of the labs, in the tiny town of Reedley, Calif., was slapped in December 2022 with “multiple code, building, and zoning violations for business, and had concerns regarding possible hazardous materials stored at [the] facility,” which prompted a referral to the FBI over “potential public safety risks,” according to an Aug. 8, 2023, slideshow from Fresno’s Department of Public Health.
The records request also turned up photos from Fresno authorities’ abatement warrant to “destroy” dangerous materials at the lab.
The images depict “the severity of filth” in cages where 951 mice were kept for experimentation, 178 of which were already dead due to the rancid conditions.
The mice had resorted to “cannibalism” and “barbering,” in which the more dominant rodents ripped the hair and skin of inferior ones.
A “large amount had mixed sexes” due to unregulated breeding and some had tumors and other medical issues.
The remaining 773 mice were later euthanized and discarded.
A separate probe by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined the lab improperly housed at least 20 infectious diseases, bacteria and viruses, including chlamydia, E. coli, HIV 1 and 2, malaria and SARS-CoV-2, court filings in Fresno County also show.
Wang Zhaloin, a supervisor at the lab, also told investigators that the mice had been genetically engineered to catch and carry COVID-19.
The other lab, located in Fresno, initially failed to properly store hazardous materials in August 2020 and then broke health code regulations again “regarding chemicals stored” at the facility in October 2022.
The first lab was shuttered by Fresno’s then-chief health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, on May 31 of this year. Prestige BioTech was registered as a business in Nevada but was unlicensed to set up the facility in California.
The second maintained a valid permit from Sept. 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021.
The facilities were both run by Universal MediTech, a subsidiary of Prestige BioTech, which put out a nationwide recall of its COVID-19 test kits in February following its coordination with Fresno authorities to investigate the lab.
Prestige Biotech President Xiuquin Yao had also been unable to produce licenses or certifications to state authorities that allowed for breeding or experimenting on the mice.
David He, a representative for Prestige, also falsely told the authorities that there were no infectious materials at the lab.
House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) asked FBI Director Christopher Wray and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra for documents and communications about the Reedley lab in August.
Investigations by the FBI, FDA, California Department of Public Health and EPA are still ongoing.
The House panel will hold a hearing on Wednesday to discuss biosafety and biosecurity standards in the US, in an effort to protect the nation against future pandemics.
“Ensuring improved and modernized biosafety and biosecurity standards across public and private sectors is an obvious step in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wenstrup. “Unfortunately, the Wuhan Institute of Virology had an extensive history of conducting risky gain-of-function research at inadequate biosafety levels, and American public health authorities had been alerted to this risk. As we prepare to protect our country against another potential public health crisis, evaluating the effectiveness of our current biosecurity policies is essential to implement proper future safeguards.”
Judicial Watch has also uncovered more than $11 million in Pentagon funding for research at laboratories in Ukraine, including activities involving anthrax, according to a November 2022 report.
The group is best known for an array of lawsuits involving former President Bill Clinton and failed 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but also sued former Vice President Dick Cheney for alleged fraud related to former his oil services company Halliburton.