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Product testingâ??s low marks



Let's travel again to the far, far, far-out frontiers of Free Enterprise. Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you into the sometimes bizarre world of chemical research -- in particular, to the world of product testing.

For example, in seeking volunteers to test one of its products, the German chemical giant Bayer advertises: "You are invited to take part in a study involving a pesticide proposed for use in controlling nonbeneficial worms and insects."

Swell, you might say, I'll try this stuff in my garden. But that's not what Bayer has in mind. It wants to test its product on you, getting you to swallow a prescribed dosage of its pesticide just to see what happens.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Bayer is among a growing group of pesticide makers that are now testing their bug-killing toxins on humans. The Swiss company Novartis, for example, says it pays $1,500 to volunteers who spend seven nights in a clinic swallowing diazinon, an insecticide used against cockroaches.

Isn't this illegal? No. Is it safe? What do you think? Is it ethical? Many say no, since it puts at risk volunteers who might ignore safety issues because they need the bucks.

Consider college kids, who often offer themselves as guinea pigs for various medical experiments figuring they're too young to, like, you know, die. As one bioethicist says, "You take an 18-year-old kid and offer him $800 bucks ... you can get him to do anything. Money can corrode informed consent."

But Bayer, Novartis, Dow and the rest claim their human tests are worth the risk of lives since this is a $37 billion-a-year industry with beaucoup profits at stake.

Let them go ahead with human pesticide testing -- but only on the chief executives, board members and major shareholders of the pesticide corporations.

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