Pharmaceutical Giant Accused of Human Pesticide Experiments
(from September 11, 2002)
In 1998, the pharmaceutical giant, Bayer, conducted pesticide experiments on
humans in what was called the Inveresk trials. Three years later the company
behind the tests stands accused of breaking the Nuremberg Code -- established
as a response to Nazi experimentation on Jews -- and of using the results to
boost profits. One of the 50 Scots who were a part of the human testing,
Bruce Turnbull, blew the whistle on Bayer.
The Sunday Herald reports, the subjects were given a single dose of a
substance called azinphos-methyl (AM) and then observed for seven days. Test
subjects were even presented with documents predicting the outcome of the
experiment stating: "The results of this study will confirm that use of
azinphos-methyl does not pose an unreasonable threat to either workers or
What they did not know was that the chemical, which they were given in minute
doses, was a pesticide deemed 'highly hazardous' by the World Health
Organization. Nor did they know that the test had been commissioned by Bayer
as part of a forceful effort to get the US Environmental Protection Agency to
reverse pesticide controls introduced to protect children.
The 50 subjects have not been offered follow-up examinations to test for the
long-term effects of exposure to AM. Instead, the key finding of the study --
that the pesticide test had 'no effect' on humans -- is now Bayer's key
weapon in its battle to raise the safety limit on the use of the pesticide by
The EPA is unequivocal in its stance on pesticides. A spokesman told the
Sunday Herald: "There is nothing for individuals to gain -- no disease will
be cured because of this." And this position extends to its attitude to human
pesticide testing. "We do not accept human data concerning pesticides. There
is, however, a lot of pressure from pesticide companies who would argue that
we get a fuller picture of pesticide use if we look at these tests [the
Inveresk trials], but there are significant moral and ethical issues."
Erik Olson, a senior attorney at the American Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC), is fighting Bayer's attempts to reverse the pesticide
controls and believes Turnbull's experience was "shocking and unethical."
Olson adds, "he wasn't told about conflicts of interest, long-term side
effects, the purpose of the test or the fact that the company's profits would
be boosted. If you don't look for any ill-effects then it's not surprising
that you won't find any."
This hasn't stopped Bayer presenting the test evidence as part of its
campaign to persuade the EPA that azinphos-methyl is safe. The company also
denies the test breached the Nuremberg Code, insisting that the use of the
pesticide benefits society. Bayer spokesman Peter Kraus said he was satisfied
that the test had been carried out to the highest standards.
Azinphos- methyl is one of its most widely used pesticides, sprayed on apples
in the Pacific northwest, blueberries in Maine and sugar cane in the deep
South. But it is highly controversial, even in America.
In Louisiana in 1991, a flash thunder storm caused azinphos-methyl to run off
sugar cane and into rivers, killing up to a million fish, along with turtles,
alligators, snakes and birds. Six weeks ago Canadian officials reported that
azinphos-methyl was found in high concentrations in the Wilmot River, where
up to 15,000 fish had died. Three years ago the EPA reported that exposure to
the pesticide caused enzyme changes in the red blood cells of 127 Californian
farm workers, creating fears about potential nervous system damage.
The EPA has now commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to advise it on
whether or not human data in pesticide testing is acceptable. Bayer and other
pesticide companies have lost patience and are suing the agency in an effort
to get a decision on the increased use of azinphos-methyl.
Read the full text of the article from the Sunday Herald.
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Daily News Archive
>From June 13, 2002
Bayer Pushes for Human Testing
The chemical company giant Bayer is working to allow use of pesticide testing
on humans to determine toxicity. EPA currently has ban on use of such
information. On June 9, The Independent reported claims that Bayer is playing
a major role in EPA's decision on whether or not to reverse this ban.
Bayer holds a major stake in the decision, as they have results of a human
test for dangers of azinphos methyl that took place in 1998. Bayer is a major
producer of this chemical. A spokesman for the Natural Resource Defense
Council stated, "There is strong evidence that Bayer did not obtain fully
informed consent because the subjects lacked knowledge and comprehension of
the goals and risks." Fear is spreading that if the U.S. begins accepting
such data, Europe will follow suit.
Bayer's interest is furthered since their takeover of Aventis Croplife. Human
testing could be used for both pesticides and genetically modified products.
It is reported that EPA Administrator Whitman will consult with the National
Academy of Sciences to reach a conclusion. A decision is expected within the
next few months.