DEATHS caused by pesticides so toxic that they are banned in Denmark have brought Aarhus University under public scrutiny because its research fund holds 45 per cent of the shares in Cheminova, the Danish company that makes the pesticides.
A television programme shown on May 1 claimed that Cheminova was partly to blame for the deaths of peasant farm workers in Central America from Bladan, which attacks the nervous system.
Bladan is a constituent of parathion and methyl-parathion, Cheminova-produced insecticides used on cotton, but farm workers did not have information about or training in their proper use.
According to a World Health Organisation report last year, thousands of Central American peasant farmers have died through using parathion and methyl-parathion incorrectly and without protection.
Henning Lehmann, rector of Aarhus and the research fund chairman, says that the programme presented no grounds for stopping Cheminova's pesticide export.
"Many of the sequences in the programme seemed to be engineered, they seemed to me to be staged," he told a radio station. "But that doesn't mean that what was said in the programme was untrue."
Mr Lehmann is also deputy chairman of Cheminova's board.
Kurt Aabo, Cheminova's information manager, expressed surprise at the "total lack of responsibility" of the farm workers using parathion and methyl-parathion.
He admitted that there have been problems arising from a lack of awareness of the hazards of using the insecticides - a situation that is partly the responsibility of Cheminova. "We will leave the market if the situation doesn't improve," Mr Aabo said.
Ibis, a Danish development aid organisation, wants Denmark to ban the export of hazardous chemicals that are not permitted on the Danish market. At least two political parties in the Danish parliament support Ibis.
Asked whether Aarhus University's research fund would dictate where Cheminova sells its products, Mr Lehmann said: "In the last resort, that's Cheminova's decision."
Aarhus has often been criticised for its connection with Cheminova, which has a history of actions and products that are thought to harm the environment.