Volkswagen’s dieselgate scandal took a bizarre turn last week when the New York Times reported a lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico locked ten monkeys in a chamber and had them watch cartoons while exhaust fumes from a Beetle were piped into the compartment.
The experiment was conducted in 2014 by the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute with funds provided by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT). The organization was funded by German automakers and suppliers including BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen.
The EUGT was shut down last year but the Times said it was part of a “prolonged, well-financed effort to produce academic research that they [German automakers] hoped would influence political debate and preserve tax privileges for diesel fuel.” The publication went on to say the EUGT funded studies which challenged everything from a World Health Organization decision to classify diesel exhaust as a carcinogen to whether or not removing diesel-powered vehicles from cities would reduce pollution.
The companies initially backed the EUGT’s efforts as Daimler stated “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.” However as the scandal grew the companies were quick to distance themselves from the group and its tests.
In a statement, Daimler AG said “We are appalled by the extent of the studies and their implementation” and “We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms.” The company went on to say they are distancing “ourselves from the studies and the EUGT” and have “launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter.”
Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller weighed in earlier today by saying the “The methods practiced by EUGT were totally wrong. All this shows me yet again that we have to take ethical questions more seriously and sensitively. In our company and as an industry. There are things you just do not do.”
Over the weekend, Volkswagen said it “explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal cruelty” as “animal testing contradicts our own ethical standards.” The automaker added “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 apologize sincerely for this.”
Despite the wave of apologizes, the monkey business isn’t going away anytime soon as Reuters reports Volkswagen’s supervisory board has called for an investigation into who commissioned the tests. VW supervisory board Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch also released a statement saying “Whoever is responsible for this must, of course, be held accountable.”
A number of environmental groups have already weighed in including Greenpeace’s Mel Evans who stated “These bewilderingly abhorrent lab tests on monkeys and possibly humans, show yet again that VW is wholly untrustworthy and will do anything to promote dirty diesel.” Evans went on to say that Volkswagen’s emissions cheating “has turned us all into test subjects.”