Proposed Amendment to Defense Bill Aims to ‘Get to the Bottom’ of COVID Origins

By Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Reporter
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. politics, U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at eva.fu@epochtimes.com
June 22, 2023Updated: July 3, 2023

How much U.S. taxpayer money has been funneled to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and how have the lab experiments there impacted the world?

These are questions Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she wants to find out with her three amendments to this year’s annual defense spending bill, which would authorize $886 billion for the Pentagon.

The amendments, Ernst said, aim to bar defense dollars from going to the WIV, the state-run Chinese facility suspected as the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed millions around the world.

Other objectives include cutting off Pentagon payments to EcoHealth, a New York nonprofit that has worked with the Wuhan lab to experiment on dangerous bat coronavirus with federal funds, as well as opening an independent investigation to decide whether EcoHealth has “diverted any U.S. defense dollars into the Wuhan Institute, or any other Chinese lab, or spent it to create enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential.”

Ernst said she wants to “get to the bottom” of the virus origin mystery once and for all.

“We should not be supporting an organization that won’t tell the truth about how it spent the tax dollars of hardworking Americans. And we certainly shouldn’t be paying them to do any more experiments on bat viruses!” she said in a statement, adding that the “only reason” to vote against these amendments is “to continue covering up what really happened in Wuhan, China.”

Epoch Times Photo
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (R) listens during a news conference alongside Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) after a weekly policy luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, on June 07, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

With U.S. intelligence agencies due to release declassified materials on COVID-19 origins this week, attention has renewed on the theory that COVID-19 might have links with a Chinese lab.

In the fall of 2019, several WIV researchers fell sick with COVID-like symptoms, according to a State Department fact sheet. Some current and former U.S. officials have now identified one of the researchers as Ben Hu, a scientist who has worked extensively on bat coronavirus research, including modifying the virus sequence of bat virus samples his team collected from southern China, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

EcoHealth’s renewal application for U.S. federal grants, recently made public, also listed Hu as one of the key overseers of its Wuhan-based coronavirus projects.

One form titled “Current and Pending Support” named Hu as a principal researcher for a pending multiyear grant worth nearly $3.6 million to study bat coronavirus emergence.

The form also cited $38 million of U.S. government support spanning from October 2014 to September 2019. From 2019 to 2021, the form suggests, Hu was studying the pathogenicity of two SARS-related bat coronaviruses on humanized mice with Beijing’s support.

White Coat Waste Project, a nonprofit opposing government-funded animal experiments that acquired the document via the Freedom of Information Act, called it “the pandemic’s ultimate smoking gun.”

The “U.S. government-funded Wuhan gain-of-function experimenter Ben Hu—probable patient zero at the Wuhan Lab—and its wasteful spending on his reckless animal experiments almost certainly caused a lab leak and COVID,” said the group’s president Anthony Bellotti.

Epoch Times Photo
The P4 laboratory on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on May 13, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

The Iowa senator said such new information reaffirms the importance of a thorough probe.

“We must know what happened in the Wuhan lab,” she told The Epoch Times. “If it gave us patient zero, the risky experiments funded with U.S. taxpayer dollars are even more concerning.”

After the pandemic broke out, the National Institutes of Health suspended and later terminated EcoHealth’s Wuhan subgrant, citing grant rule compliance issues. The agency renewed the grant in May after EcoHealth made modifications to the program’s scope, although it has quietly dropped the WIV from its list of foreign institutions eligible for U.S.-funded animal experiments.

In this fiscal year, EcoHealth has received close to $8 million in grants from various U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Defense, federal spending data shows.

The COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 that President Joe Biden signed into law in March imposed a June 18 deadline for intelligence officials to disclose information relating to the virus roots, including any possible links to the Wuhan lab, which by now has passed.