Daily News Archive

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 consumers."

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 US farmers.

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.