Peter Daszak testifying: The man behind EcoHealth Alliance and the COVID-19 origins controversy

British epidemiologist Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, will appear before a House panel Wednesday morning to testify regarding his role in determining the origins of COVID-19.

The public hearing is the latest development in the multiyear investigation into Daszak and his organization, EcoHealth Alliance, for their work on bat coronaviruses in Wuhan, China, that receive funding from the National Institutes of Health.

EcoHealth Alliance has strong ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the same city where the first human cases of SARS-CoV-2 were reported in December 2019. The WIV quickly became the epicenter of the lab-leak theory of the origin of the virus.

Daszak appeared before the House Oversight and Energy and Commerce committees in a closed-door transcribed interview session in November 2023, but Republicans said documents obtained by the committees following the event conflicted with Daszak’s interview, raising concerns about the veracity of his testimony.

“These revelations undermine your credibility as well as every factual assertion you made during your transcribed interview,” wrote the committee chairs in a letter to Daszak announcing the hearing. “The Committees have a right and an obligation to protect the integrity of their investigations, including the accuracy of testimony during a transcribed interview.”

EcoHealth Alliance declined the Washington Examiner’s request for comment and a request to interview Daszak before the hearing.

FILE – In this Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, Peter Daszak makes a call on a foggy day before leaving his hotel with other members of a World Health Organization team for another day of field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

Who is Peter Daszak?

Daszak grew up in a small town outside of Manchester, England. In 2019, Daszak told the podcast This Week in Virology that he had boyhood dreams of becoming “a zoologist in the Amazon.”

In 1987, Daszak earned his zoology undergraduate degree from the University of Bangor, Wales, and later his Ph.D in parasitic infectious disease at the University of East London. 

Daszak moved to the United States with his wife, an immunologist, originally settling in Atlanta. There, Daszak made critical connections at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2001, Daszak joined the Wildlife Trust, an ecological organization based in New York City and founded in 1971 by famous British zoologist Gerrald Durrell.

A decade later, Daszak spearheaded the transformation of his organization in 2010 into EcoHealth Alliance, which became an industry leader in pandemic preparedness research.

Under Daszak’s leadership, EcoHealth became a proponent for the so-called OneHealth model, an integrated approach to public health that emphasizes the relationship between people, animals, and ecosystems in disease outbreak and prevention. 

In addition to data collection and experimentation on zoonotic viruses with epidemic potential, the organization also helps with sustainable economic development in rainforest and tropical environments to prevent environmental degradation. This prevents animals from being displaced and eventually risking the transmission of diseases to humans.

Emerging bat coronaviruses research in Wuhan

In their announcement of Daszak’s hearing, House Republicans accused Ecohealth of having used taxpayer dollars to fund dangerous gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Gain-of-function, or GOF, is the controversial research practice of making a virus more dangerous to humans via genetic engineering. What constitutes GOF scientifically is a hotly debated subject, but EcoHealth fundamentally denies it has ever funded GOF research.

Daszak played a critical role at EcoHealth in securing funding from federal grant projects, with the majority of the funding coming from the National Institutes of Health. EcoHealth’s research model is also unique in that it conducts most of its projects in foreign laboratories, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The most controversial of EcoHealth’s projects, titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” was conducted at the WIV starting in 2019. The project was paused in July 2020 by the NIH amid concern of a lab leak and strain between the U.S. and China.

Emails released by EcoHealth document that Daszak’s team had over 15,000 samples of coronaviruses frozen in the WIV lab, and he continually pressed the NIH for months to be able to resume the project.

Funding for the project resumed in May 2023 after EcoHealth promised to “modify the goals of the project and address any prior concerns.”

The text of the new grant specifically states that EcoHealth “will not conduct any on-the-ground work in China, nor will [it] do any further field sampling of people or bats, or any recombinant virus culture or infection experiments.” 

The remainder of the grant work has been conducted at the Duke-NUS Medical School campus in Singapore and is using only computer modeling to analyze previous samples.

Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) speaks during a House Select Subcommittee hearing on the Coronavirus pandemic investigation of the origins of COVID-19, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The denied DARPA project

Republicans have also said that the public hearing is motivated by several questions regarding Daszak’s testimony for a project that was ultimately rejected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, within the Department of Defense.

EcoHealth applied for a grant in 2018 that would have involved the manipulation of the spike proteins on various SARS-CoV viruses that would have subsequently been injected into humanized mice. 

Daszak previously told the committees that the research would have been conducted exclusively at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but documents show that Daszak communicated with his research partners that a significant portion of the work would have been conducted at the WIV.

When asked about the DARPA project in an interview with the Intercept in 2022, Daszak said the allegations that the DARPA project was rejected due to security concerns were “absolutely untrue.”

“Never once did they mention any concern or issues around safety; never once did they mention gain-of-function,” Daszak said, stating the problem was about budgetary constraints.

Daszak also denied that the project would have inserted a furin cleavage site to a coronavirus, the characteristic of SARS-CoV-2 that makes the virus easily transmissible between humans.

“The DARPA proposal was not funded. Therefore, the work was not done. Simple,” Daszak said.

FILE – A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

WHO mission to Wuhan and the lab leak theory

Daszak was selected as the only American representative to the World Health Organization’s fact-finding mission to Wuhan in early 2021.

The report from the mission, published in March 2021, concluded that SARS-CoV-2 likely did not come from a lab accident, but many questioned the reliability of the conclusion considering Daszak’s relationship with scientists at the WIV.

Before the mission, Daszak led a group of scientists to publish an open letter in the prominent scientific journal the Lancet in March 2020 to “strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

Daszak said in the 2022 interview that, after reviewing “every single document” suggesting a lab leak, he still concluded that “there is no evidence yet for that.”

“It’s all about implied motives, databases that were taken offline, people that aren’t on a website, or innuendo around something,” Daszak said of the lab leak theory. “Any one of those things can be explained by the normal process of doing science.”

Daszak said the real reason why he and his organization have come under scrutiny is because of how the origins of COVID-19 have been politicized.

“Scientists disagree over an issue where there’s no definitive proof,” Daszak said in 2022. “And for this issue, there’s no definitive proof. And there may never be.”

Friendship with Fauci’s top aide

Daszak’s relationship with the top aide to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the pandemic, will also be top of mind during the public hearing on Wednesday.

Since last summer, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic and the National Archives and Records Administration have been investigating whether Fauci’s assistant, David Morens, destroyed government records.

Emails uncovered by the subcommittee last June revealed that Morens encouraged colleagues outside of the NIH to use his private email to discuss COVID-19 origins to skirt Freedom of Information Act requests. He also said he would delete emails he did not want leaked to the press.


Further emails between Morens and Daszak during the early months of the pandemic corroborated these allegations, with Daszak confirming to Morens that they would communicate “via gmail from now on” about the novel coronavirus.

When Morens testified before the subcommittee in a closed-door transcribed interview in January, he said Daszak was a close friend. Daszak described Morens as his “mentor” during his respective interview in November.

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