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German trio face criticism over monkey diesel tests

Monkey business: Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller, Daimler AG chairman of the board of management Dieter Zetsche and BMW Group chairman of the board of management Harald Krueger at the national diesel forum in Berlin, Germany, in August last year.

Monkeys tested in diesel emissions study funded by Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW

30 Jan 2018

VOLKSWAGEN Group, Daimler AG and BMW Group have this week been quick to deny direct responsibility for a diesel emissions study they funded that used monkeys as test subjects.

Testing was commissioned by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), an independent institute financed by the three German car-makers and parts supplier Bosch, with the 2014 study intended to prove that latest-generation diesel cars are much cleaner than their predecessors and not harmful to health.

Specifically, the test involved 10 cynomolgus macaque monkeys that squatted in airtight chambers while watching cartoons for entertainment and inhaling fumes from a diesel-powered late-model Volkswagen Beetle and a 1999 Ford pick-up.

However, Daimler AG, BMW Group and the research scientists involved were unaware that the Beetle was fitted with an emissions defeat device which manipulated results by producing pollution levels lower in the laboratory than on the road, according to the The New York Times.

This study was conducted by the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI) at a facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with its details coming to light during an ongoing dieselgate-related lawsuit against Volkswagen Group in the United States.

A statement released by Volkswagen Group distanced the automotive company from the monkey test while apologising for its involvement in the incident.

“Volkswagen Group understands its social and corporate responsibility and takes criticism of this study by the EUGT very seriously,” the statement read.

“We believe that the scientific methods used to conduct the study were wrong and that it would have been better not to undertake it at all.

“Volkswagen Group explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal cruelty. Animal testing is completely inconsistent with our corporate standards.

“We apologise for the inappropriate behaviour that occurred and for the poor judgement of individuals who were involved.”

Similarly, a statement from Daimler AG heavily criticised the EUGT and its methods while revealing that the matter is subject an internal enquiry.

“We expressly distance ourselves from the studies and the EUGT … (and) are appalled by the nature and extent of the studies and their implementation,” the statement read.

“We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms.

“Even though Daimler did not have influence on the study’s design, we have launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter.

“The EUGT's approach contradicts our values and ethical principles.

“All of the research work commissioned with the EUGT was accompanied and reviewed by a research advisory committee consisting of scientists from renowned universities and research institutes – from selection through to the presentation of results.”

In a statement BMW Group confirmed it is launching its own formal enquiry into the situation and will work with the relevant parties to come to a resolution.

“BMW Group did not participate in the mentioned studies and distanced itself from the studies last week,” the statement read.

“We have immediately initiated an internal investigation to thoroughly clarify the work and background of the EUGT. For this purpose, we are in intensive contact with the research institutes involved, as well as other independent bodies, in order to facilitate a comprehensive and well-founded evaluation.

“This includes a broad and fact-based comparison of study methodology with comparative scientific research. In doing so, the assessment of independent bodies with appropriate expertise - such as an independent medical ethic commission - should be considered.”

A spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, stressed that the study was unethical in nature.

“These tests on monkeys or even humans are in no way ethically justified,” he said. “The indignation felt by many people is completely understandable.”

Founded in 2007, the EUGT was disbanded on June 30, 2017, meaning the results of the monkey test were not yet available, leading to the diesel emissions study never being completed or published.

According to legal proceedings and government records, if the German trio proved that the fumes were not harmful – contrary to a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) finding that classified the emissions as a carcinogen – they would have helped retain European tax breaks for diesel fuel, which would have been in their business interests.

According to WHO, evidence continues to mount that exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a diesel emission, “can increase symptoms of bronchitis and asthma, as well as lead to respiratory infections and reduced lung function and growth”.

A report from the European Parliament last year found that approximately 72,000 people died prematurely in Europe in 2012 due to nitrogen dioxide pollution.

This is the latest development in the evolving dieselgate saga that began in September 2015 and has seen Volkswagen Group fined $US26 billion ($A32.1 billion) after pleading guilty to federal fraud and conspiracy charges in the US.

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