Volkswagen financed a harrowing experiment in 2014 to prove their diesel vehicles were cleaner than others on the market when they locked 10 monkeys into an airtight room and pumped it full of diesel exhaust for four straight hours!
The monkeys watched cartoons on TV to keep them calm while they inhaled dangerous fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.
It wasn’t until The New York Times published an explosive report detailing the animals’ involvement in the experiment. All of which were kept secret by the company. The Times found that popular German auto companies BMW and Daimler were also involved in the tests.
“My first thought was ‘Oh no,’” Sue Leary, director of the American Anti-Vivisection Society said. “It was just a shame that this was done to these animals, but when you examine Volkswagen’s rationale — to make a point about a product in order to make money — it all just seems even more unnecessary. The animals went through this for absolutely nothing.”
American scientists at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico conducted the experiment. However, the research was essentially useless since the vehicle was one of many Volkswagens rigged at the time to produce lower emission levels to cheat on emissions tests, compromising the results, and risking the lives of the 10 monkeys for nothing.
In concentrated amounts, car fumes can seriously injure or kill people and even with the reduced emissions, the monkeys were exposed in an enclosed space for hours.
Although the monkeys reportedly survived the test, it is unknown if they experienced any short- or long-term health effects from the highly concentrated exposure to the fumes. Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in people include dizziness, vision problems, irregular heartbeat, seizures or death. Because the monkeys have much smaller lungs, it’s likely that they were similarly impacted.
“The Lovelace Institute does respiratory research on hundreds of primates and other animals such as dogs and rats,” Leary added. “They have had quite a number of USDA violations in the past.”
USDA inspection reports of the facility show that it has been written up for 13 incidents involving animals since March of 2015. This includes the death of a dog who was receiving a procedure by a lab employee who had not been trained.
Another incident showed that a pig was euthanized after a lab employee improperly handled the animal and had broken its leg. Throughout the years, countless reports of monkeys escaping their cages have been reported.
The species of monkeys used in the Volkswagen experiment were Macaque, the most commonly used primates in laboratory research. Macaques and other primates used in lab research are often purchased from nightmarish “monkey farms” that capture them from the wild or breed them in highly stressful conditions. The poor monkeys often go without proper food or care and are kept barely alive until they’re sold for lab experiments.
“Macaques are highly intelligent and adaptable creatures — and because they are not endangered, there are fewer restrictions on their breeding, importation, and use,” Erika Fleury, program director for the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance said. “This is why there are hundreds of thousands of macaques living in research labs throughout the country.”
Volkswagen has suspended its chief lobbyist Thomas Steg, who was involved in the planning stages of the experiment as early as 2013.
The company has pledged to “rule out testing on animals for the future so that this doesn’t happen again,” Reuters reported.
After an online petition blasting the company for animal testing garnered over 100,000 supporters this was announced.
Tis is a promising sign to Leary.
“I can’t help but observe that the company gave a very appropriate response,” Leary said. “There’s been a consistency on all levels of Germany’s response to this issue as well, so it’s a very good sign that they’re all in agreement that what was done was unacceptable.”
While the status of the monkeys used in the experiment is unclear, Leary and Fleury agree that the appropriate place for them now is at an accredited primate sanctuary.
“After all of this, my greatest concern for these individual animals is that they should retire them to a sanctuary,” Leary said. “It would be a great way to end this unpleasant situation — one that could have been entirely avoidable in the first place.”
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