In 1977, EPA received a letter from a woman who worked at Stanford Research Institute, which tested pesticides for the giant British oil and chemical company, Shell. This important letter carefully documents corrupt scientific practices favoring the approval of Shell pesticides in the United States. The letter makes Stanford Research Institute and Shell responsible for these unethical practices.
Stanford University created SRI in 1946. SRI worked like a lab for tobacco and petroleum companies. In 1970, it became independent.
Labs have been a permanent mechanism of the infrastructure of pesticides and agribusiness. They keep chemical companies and industrialized farmers in business.
This letter highlights the corruption enveloping Shell and SRI preparing pesticides for government approval. It did not matter that their pesticides would poison our food and the natural world.
I quote the 1977 letter. Its language may be awkward but its message is razor-sharp. I only changed the names of the persons appearing in the letter:
“From 1966-68 I was executive secretary to Dr. John Bart, director of the Toxicology Department, Life Sciences Division, Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, California….
“Although the information herein dates back to 1968 I feel it is still pertinent because the pesticides referred to are still on the market in copious quantities, and the same people are testing and selling the pesticides today. Shell Development and Shell Chemical produce a large quantity of the pesticides on the market. In order for them to put a pesticide on the market they must have a PRIVATE research firm test the pesticides for effects on animals. The pesticides are fed to the animals (dogs, rats, rabbits, etc.) in varying amounts for varying lengths of time…
“In order to market the pesticides the private research group sends reports to the Federal Government. These reports go through the hands of Shell and then are submitted to the government…
“I contend that because of the way the research was conducted… the testing of Shell pesticides by SRI is INVALID… Bart… changed the data arbitrarily more than once… and the data wasn’t even accurate to begin with… Bart was held in contempt by other scientists, by people in his labs, and also by Shell… Bart did not seem to care what went on in the labs just so he could send a glowing report to the government on how harmless Shell’s pesticides were.
“Jas Eaton, Biologist, ran the labs until he was fired… Animal care under his direction was a disaster (animals often went without food or water, for instance.) He juggled figures in the data books and on reports. Jas did unauthorized research in the labs and started sleeping there… Right after Jas was fired, they FOUND A DOZEN BOTTLES OF TUMORS HIDDEN BEHIND A DOOR. THESE TUMORS TAKEN FROM TEST ANIMALS HAD NOT BEEN RECORDED ON THE REPORTS SENT TO THE GOVERNMENT.
“So from beginning to end there were reasons why the final report to the government was probably invalid: 1. Bart’s main objective was to please Shell rather than conduct accurate testing. 2. Sloppy animal care affected the condition of the animals. 3. Incorrect amounts of pesticides fed to animals. 4. Wrong pesticides fed to wrong animals. 5. Data books kept in a haphazard manner. 6. Bart, Eaton, and perhaps other members of the staff faking figures in the data and in reports. 7. Staff demoralized and ‘didn’t care.’ 8. Dr. Nies, the pathologist, was a chronic alcoholic. 9. Titrators [for determining the concentration of a substance in a solution] in poor mechanical condition. 10. Animals died and this was not recorded. Tumors not recorded…
“Although this occurred a few years ago, THE PESTICIDES ARE STILL ON THE MARKET and we eat them with our daily meals. We are the real test animals.”
This powerful letter exploded like a bomb at EPA. Could the Stanford lab be another criminal operation like that of the Industrial Bio-Test lab in Illinois? After all, a prestigious American lab, SRI, was faking tests for one of the richest companies in the world, Shell. And the reason was money, lots of it. Shell wanted its pesticides to capture the lucrative American market and that of the rest of the world.
The author of the letter knew what she was talking about. Her information came from the horse’s mouth. She knew personally the chief actors who faked data, writing glowing reports for Shell pesticides. The sordid practices she described were chapter and verse of the practices of the kill-and-count science at IBT.
With IBT still hot and evolving -- the news of that massive scandal broke in 1976 -- EPA dispatched teams of investigators to Menlo Park, California, to check out the story. They did, and they found that the author of the letter was telling the truth.
Now, what to do?
While EPA’s senior brass debated why they should not do anything about SRI, Paul J. Jorgensen, vice president of SRI International – “International” had been added to the name of SRI – was putting pressure on EPA to clear his organization from “any past and present wrongdoings.” This, and the Congressional guns of Shell and SRI, had the desired outcome. On April 22, 1978, Edwin Johnson, director, Office of Pesticide Programs of EPA, gave a clean bill of health to SRI, saying, in effect, “the current laboratory practices and procedures utilized for toxicology testing at SRI are exemplary and lead to scientific conclusions which are reliable.”
Johnson avoided talking about the unethical practices of the 1960s and 1970s, which resulted in the registration and approval of Shell’s products. He also said nothing about banning Shell’s illegal and dangerous sprays from the daily diet of the American people. Here, in the SRI fraud, he was providing the script for the looming IBT crisis.
It took the government and the industry several years to make invisible the bottomless pit of corruption in how the chemical industry has been giving birth to fake data in support of agricultural biocides.