A diesel emissions research study funded by three major German carmakers has drawn intense criticism for its use of monkeys. The experiments were commissioned by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector. The organization received all of its funding from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.
The researchers used cynomolgus macaque monkeys to test the health effects of diesel exhaust. The study involved exposing one group of monkeys to diluted exhaust from a late-model diesel Volkswagen for four hours and another group to exhaust from an older Ford diesel pickup for the same amount of time. The monkeys were then examined and samples of lung tissue were taken to check for inflammation.
The experiments were carried out in 2014. The research did not kill the monkeys, but it is unclear where they are now.
Diesel was the most popular engine option in Europe until recently. It would be much harder to sell big cars in Europe without the fuel economy provided by diesel. However, excess diesel emissions have been linked to a range of lung ailments and blamed for tens of thousands of premature deaths. This has led many countries to regulate the maximum amount of emissions a diesel engine can emit.
The research group commissioned numerous studies on topics related to diesel. The organization shut down last year amid controversy over its work. The carmakers said the research group was independent and overseen by reputable scientists.
After details of the tests emerged, it became a public relations disaster for the companies involved. The automakers were hit with a wave of negative media coverage and criticism from animal rights activists. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote a letter to Matthias Müller, the chief executive of Volkswagen, protesting the use of monkeys for the tests.
Volkswagen said in a statement, “Animal testing is completely inconsistent with our corporate standards. We apologize for the inappropriate behavior that occurred and for the poor judgment of individuals who were involved.” BMW released a statement saying, “The BMW Group did not participate in the mentioned study and distances itself from this study.”
Daimler also distanced itself from the study. The company said in a statement, “Daimler does neither tolerate nor support unethical treatment of animals. The animal experiments in the study are superfluous and repulsive.”
This is yet another black eye for Volkswagen. In 2015, Volkswagen was caught using software to cloak excess diesel emissions. The cars released nitrogen oxide up to 40 times the level allowed by federal law during real world driving, while lowering emissions enough under lab conditions to pass the emissions tests. Volkswagen admitted to installing the software in about 11 million cars worldwide. The fallout cost the company $25 billion.