VOLKSWAGEN is to investigate allegations that it was one of three car makers that paid for tests in which monkeys and humans were exposed to nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars while watching cartoons.
The allegations were revealed last week by the New York Times. It reported that the organisation that commissioned the study, the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (E.U.G.T.), received all of its funding from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.
The E.U.G.T, which hired scientists to conduct studies rather than carrying out the research itself, shut down last year amid controversy over its work.
Hans Dieter Pötsch, the chair of the car maker’s supervisory board, said VW Group would “strongly distance” itself from the allegations. In a statement he added, “Whoever has to take responsibility for it is, of course, accountable.”
Experiments at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico involved sealing 10 macaque monkeys in airtight containers then making the animals breathe the diesel exhaust fumes from a 2013 Beetle and a 2004 Ford F250 pick-up. Twenty-five humans are also alleged to have breathed the fumes. The results were never published.
A Netflix documentary, Hard NOx, part of the Dirty Money series, captures the story.
The tests were aimed at disproving allegations that diesel emissions are harmful to health. The ultra-fine, harmful particulates released by diesels have been linked to asthma, lung diseases and heart attacks.
Unbeknown to the scientists conducting the experiments, the VW Beetle’s diesel engine had been rigged to produce less pollution in a laboratory test than when driven on the road.
A Volkswagen Group statement said: “Volkswagen Group explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal cruelty. Animal testing contradicts our own ethical standards. The EUGT has been in liquidation since June 30, 2017.
“We are conscious of our social and corporate responsibilities and are taking the criticism regarding the study very seriously. We know that the scientific methods used by EUGT were wrong and apologise sincerely for this.”
The company’s management board is to launch a probe following the supervisory board’s recommendation.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “These tests on monkeys or even on humans are not ethically justifiable in any shape or form. The indignation of many people is absolutely understandable.”
Despite VW distancing itself from the study, industry figures say the results would have been presented to managers at VW, BMW and Mercedes, all of whom belonged to the EUGT lobby group, which has since been disbanded.
Harald Ullmann, a vice president for the animal rights charity Peta, wrote to Volkswagen chief executive Matthias Müller, saying: “There is nothing fair about condemning these complex, sensitive animals to suffer physical suffering and psychological torment in laboratories where they are caged and deprived of fresh air, sunshine, freedom of movement, the companionship of others, and just about everything else that makes any life worth living.”
Volkswagen is already counting the cost of cheating diesel emissions tests in America and Europe. An estimate 11m vehicles were affected, and it has been hit with associated costs of over £22bn.
However, buyers in the UK seem don’t seem to have been put off purchasing VW-badged vehicles; in 2017, the brand rose to second overall in terms of registrations, overtaking Vauxhall.