As reported by Bloomberg BNA on Friday, March 24, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price last Friday formally launching an investigation into numerous grants and contracts awarded to the Ramazzini Institute and its affiliates at the Collegium Ramazzini. The Ramazzini Institute is a foreign cancer research agency that is funded in large part by U.S. taxpayers. In years past, the institute has been widely criticized for lacking scientific integrity and has shrouded its lab results in secrecy.
The House Committee on Science letter was prompted by an Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) lawsuit to compel the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FOIA request sought certain records associated with several grants and contracts, including grants to the Ramazzini Institute and its affiliates; NIH failed to respond.
The House Science Committee’s letter, authored by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), expresses concerns regarding HHS’s funding and ties to Ramazzini, stating:
“The Committee is investigating the scientific integrity of the work performed by NIEHS contract and grant recipients. According to public records, the Ramazzini Institute, an independent international science academy that conducts cancer related studies, benefited from at least seven sole source government contracts. The Committee is concerned that contracts awarded to the Ramazzini Institute and its affiliates may not meet adequate scientific integrity standards. Additionally, these sole source contracts raise questions about the integrity of the acquisition process at NIH and NEIHS. We are writing to request documents and information to determine whether NIEHS is complying with all federal acquisition regulations and ensuring award recipients are adhering to the utmost standards of scientific integrity.” (emphasis added)
The Committee has good reason to be skeptical of funding being awarded to the Ramazzini Institute. Similar to IARC, Ramazzini Institute has long been the subject of considerable controversy for its research. The institute made a significant splash in 2005, when it declared aspartame was carcinogenic. However, this analysis was widely panned by both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Ramazzini Institute also stirred the scientific community in 2012 by linking sucralose to cancer. The initial presentation of its findings at the Children with Cancer conference in London prompted accusations of scaremongering and a lack of responsibility in handling public health concerns. Criticism later resurfaced when the study was finally published in 2016, with many scientists pointing out that the Ramazzini’s work did not follow international standards for assessing safety.
Moreover, this is not the first time Congress has called out the institute for scrutiny. In 2012, Members of the House and the Senate wrote a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the use of Ramazzini studies when conducting chemical risk assessments. That letter stated that, according to the EPA, agency scientists “identified discrepancies in the results of methanol studies conducted by the Ramazzini Institute.” After some investigation, EPA determined that several of the Ramazzini Institute’s studies could not be relied upon.
Despite these controversies, the Ramazzini Institute has several close ties not only to IARC, but NIH and EPA.
For instance, several IARC Monograph Working Group members — including five members of IARC’s controversial Monograph 112, which examined several herbicides and pesticides, including glyphosate — are Ramazzini fellows. Kurt Straif, the head of the IARC Monograph program, is himself a member of the Collegium Ramazzini.
The House Science letter notes the lion’s share of government funding for members of the Collegium Ramazzini is provided by NIEHS and NTP, led by Linda Birnbaum, a member of the Collegium. Since she became Director of NIEHS and NTP in 2009, one third of the support received by Collegium Members ($92 million) has come from these programs. In fact, the head of the research department at the Ramazzini Institute, Dr. Fiorella Belpoggi, even has an HHS email address.
In addition to these connections, the House Science Committee letter notes that Ramazzini is listed in 13 contracts on USAspending.gov through four different third parties totaling nearly $2 million. More than $1 million appears attributable to five contracts with public relations firm Professional & Scientific Associates (PSA). The Ramazzini Institute was also a part of five different NCI (NIH) grants to the New York University School of Medicine from 2000-2004 totaling more than $6 million in funding.
Millions of dollars in federal funding and numerous ties between Ramazzini, IARC and U.S. federal regulatory agencies considered, it’s no wonder the House Science Committee and E&E Legal are asking questions. And considering Ramazzini and IARC’s work is becoming more and more associated with activism than science, it’s clear the American people deserve answers.