Ethical poser

in a move that would violate the Nuremberg Code adopted after World War II, the us is contemplating to allow data from human testing of toxic pesticides to be part of regulatory decisions. The Bush administration's proposed move also runs contrary to the recommendations of an advisory panel formed during Bill Clinton's regime.

"The Nuremberg Code permits human testing only if it yields fruitful results for the good of society, that cannot be achieved any other way,' says Erik Olson, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog group. In consonance with this, the Clinton scientific advisory panel also concluded that human tests could only be conducted if there was a compelling health need.

"This is a power move on the part of the pesticide manufacturers, the Environment Protection Agency administrator and others,' alleges Herbert Needleman, a professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the advisory panel.

Stephen L Johnson, assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency's office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, says the agency is weighing the pros and cons of the matter. The issue has been discussed with the agricultural and pesticide industries and public interest groups. "We're trying to determine what makes sense from a scientific and an ethics point of view.'

According to agency officials, in its 30-year history the epa has only rarely established a regulatory standard for pesticides based on human tests. Under the Clinton administration, the agency used humans to test the effects of air pollution and the efficacy of various mosquito repellants.

The agricultural and pesticide industries support the use of human subjects because such tests calibrate tolerance levels more accurately than extrapolations from experiments on animals. "The agricultural community believes that the agency should use the best available scientific information before making decisions and this includes data from human testing,' says Johnson. In three or four recent cases, the epa has looked at human tests submitted by the pesticide industry. But he hastens to add that the results of these studies would not have altered its conclusions.

Ray McAllister, vice president for science and regulatory affairs for the American Crop Protection Association, says: "When the need exists, the experiments can be very important for understanding the safety of a particular product.' He adds that the risk to volunteers "is minuscule'.

But critics argue that the agency is being pushed by the pesticide industry for commercial gain