Human testing debate resurfaces

Pharmaceutical company seeks to use human data to promote pesticides

Published: Saturday 30 November 2002

German pharmaceutical giant Bayer A G has disclosed plans to use data collected by testing pesticides on human beings. The tests, which came in for severe criticism, were conducted by the company in 1998. But Bayer has also announced that it will not be reviving trials on humans, which are currently banned in the us. "We haven't done it since 1998. I don't foresee any new case where we plan to do this kind of study," company spokesperson Peter Kraus said.

Environmental groups had criticised the 1998 study conducted by Bayer in which the Inveresk research laboratory in Scotland tested a pesticide on around 50 volunteers. According to reports, a volunteer had claimed that he was not told the chemical azinphosmethyl was a pesticide and had later fallen sick. However, the company maintains that the subjects were informed about the trials.

Sources said that the tests were conducted as part of Bayer's strategy to force the us Environmental Protection Agency (usepa) to reverse pesticide controls introduced to protect children. The key finding of the study which said the pesticide tests had 'no effect' on human beings, is now Bayer's main weapon in its battle to raise the safety limit on the use of the pesticide by us farmers.

The Nuremberg Code, along with other international human rights agreements put in place after the Nazis used Jewish prisoners for medical experiments, tightly governs the kind of tests that can be performed on humans. Clause two of the code states: "The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society." But this has not stopped Bayer from presenting the test evidence as part of its campaign to persuade the agency that azinphosmethyl is safe. The company also denies that the test breached the Nuremberg Code, insisting that the use of the pesticide benefits society.

The USEPA has now commissioned the US National Academy of Sciences to advise it on the matter. Kraus said the company was waiting for guidance from the academy as epa declared a moratorium in late 2001 against using human data in its risk assessment.

Azinphosmethyl, is a widely used pesticide. But it is highly controversial, even in the US. In Louisiana in 1991, a flash thunderstorm caused azinphosmethyl to run off sugarcane and into rivers, killing up to a million fish, along with turtles, alligators, snakes and birds.

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