Chemicals giant paid students to drink pesticide

London Sunday Times 01/12/03: Lois Rogers

Original Link:,,2087-540016,00.html

ONE of the world’s biggest chemical companies faces an inquiry after it was found to have used students to test a “highly hazardous” pesticide linked to serious disorders.

Bayer CropScience, of Mannheim, Germany, paid the students, mostly from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, £450 each to consume the pesticide.

The project, the fine detail of which is secret, has been condemned in the United States as unscientific and unethical. Experts are worried that cash-strapped students are vulnerable targets for researchers. Lawyers point out that the Nuremberg Code, formulated after the Nazis’ wartime experiments, bans the use of humans for testing poisonous substances where the risk exceeds the benefit to humanity.

Ironically, Bayer is the daughter company of IG Farben, the manufacturer of Zyklon B, a gas used in Nazi extermination camps.

Bayer is using the results of the study, conducted between 1998 and 2000, to argue that restrictions on pesticide use should be eased, because no immediate adverse effects were suffered.

Groups of up to 16 volunteers were housed at a research centre in Edinburgh and fed azinphos-methyl (AM), an organophosphate. The dosages have not been disclosed. The World Health Organisation has classified AM as “highly hazardous”. Exposure is linked to blood and nervous system problems. The dangers are well documented. Accidental ingestion of a related Bayer organophosphate pesticide by 42 Peruvian children last year led to 24 deaths.

Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: “There are real problems with this kind of research.

You would have thought we knew enough about pesticides from Agent Orange and DDT onwards.”

Bayer is using the research to persuade the American Environmental Protection Agency to ease restrictions on AM.The agency is concerned about the conduct of the studies and has referred them to an expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The panel is now demanding to know exactly how the unpublished trial was conducted.

The agency said last week that 10 of the 17 studies being considered involved Inveresk, a private company operating from a science park run by Heriot-Watt, which conducted the research for Bayer.

“The NAS has until December to give an opinion on whether these human studies are ethically and scientifically valid,” the agency said.

Vera Sharav, of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, an American watchdog, gave evidence to the panel. “These pesticides are extremely dangerous. If they increase the permitted limits, it will pose a serious risk to children in particular,” she said.

Nobody from Inveresk was available for comment but Heriot-Watt said it had no connection with the company. “We have been assured this research has been carried out within legal guidelines,” it said.

Bayer said its studies were performed “in full accordance with national and international regulations and standards”.

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