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"By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox." – Galileo Galilei

Congress Steps Up Scrutiny of International Agency for Research on Cancer

Since its launch earlier this year, CAPHR has called on global regulatory bodies to investigate and reform the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) obscure Monographs Program, a severely flawed program that evaluates the cancer hazards of substances and produces reports, known as Monographs, on its official conclusions. Last week, members of U.S. Congress listened and stepped up scrutiny of the program’s rampant transparency issues, flawed research methodologies, purported conflict of interests, and stewardship of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Renewed Focus

Last week, the Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz) sent letters to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Eric Hargan and IARC Director Christopher Wild asking some very pointed questions about IARC’s  scientific integrity, Monographs Program and assessment of glyphosate, and communications with HHS entities. Importantly, these letters also signal that the House Science Committee may soon ask IARC to testify on how it conducts its scientific reviews.

Of note, the letters pay particular attention to evidence of “data deletion, manipulation, and potential conflicts of interest.” As the letter to IARC states,

“Recent news media reporting has revealed troubling evidence of data deletion, manipulation, and potential conflicts of interest with Monograph 112 on glyphosate. Additionally, there seems to be a lack of transparency in the science used to justify the findings on glyphosate.” (emphasis added)

Chairmen Smith and Biggs also expressed concern over a potential conflict of interest regarding Christopher Portier, an activist who exerted a great deal of influence over the glyphosate Monograph process. Portier served as an “invited specialist” during the evaluation process, and as chair of a 2014 IARC Advisory Group panel that prioritized glyphosate for evaluation. From the letter to Dr. Wild:

“Besides blatant manipulations of the monograph itself, the Committee is also concerned with Christopher Portier’s apparent conflict of interest in relation to the monograph. In his deposition this past September, it became evident that at the same time Portier chaired the IARC Working Group that proposed an assessment on glyphosate, he was also a private litigation consultant for two law firms.  In his role as a consultant, he directly benefited from IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a ‘probable’ carcinogen.  He helped prepare the case against Monsanto, the agricultural company that utilized glyphosate in its products. As a litigation consultant, Portier made at least $160,000 for his initial preparatory work alone.”

In addition to systemic conflict of interest and transparency issues brought to light by IARC’s glyphosate Monograph, Chairmen Smith and Biggs also expressed interest in ensuring IARC’s “honest stewardship of American taxpayer dollars.”  The Congressmen note that IARC has received $48 million from HHS’ National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1985; nearly half of those resources – American taxpayer dollars –  have specifically funded IARC’s flawed Monograph Program. Congress is now demanding answers to ensure that U.S. government entities and American taxpayers are not financing flawed, biased science.

Mounting Scrutiny

These letters come on the heels of recent news reports of IARC’s data suppression and manipulation, and follow several letters from lawmakers questioning the agency’s scientific integrity.

As a refresher, Reuters revealed this summer that IARC scientist Dr. Aaron Blair admitted to withholding crucial research which found no link between glyphosate and cancer. Two months later, POLITICO reported on another instance of IARC’s data suppression, this time involving  IARC Working Group scientist Charles Jameson.  In a sworn deposition, Jameson told lawyers that IARC failed to share with his group two other German studies that showed no link between glyphosate and cancer.

And that’s not all.  A special investigation published by Reuters just last month detailed how IARC’s Monographs program edited out “non-carcinogenic” findings from its glyphosate review.

Members of Congress have also raised major concerns about IARC over the past year. In August, after Dr. Blair admitted to withholding research from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which found no link between glyphosate and cancer, the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Trey Gowdy, launched an investigation into why NIH had failed to publish the AHS data.

“The committee is concerned about these new revelations, especially given Dr. Blair’s apparent admission that the AHS study was ‘powerful,’ and would alter IARC’s analysis of glyphosate,” Chairman Gowdy’s letter to NIH Director Francis Collins reads. (emphasis added)

CAPHR’s Call to Action

In response to Chairman Gowdy’s investigation, Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), called for urgent reform of the IARC Monographs program along with a thorough review of the organization’s previous classifications.

“I applaud the investigation Gowdy has launched into the possible manipulation of science by the IARC Monographs program,” Dooley stated, “There is an urgent need to fundamentally reform IARC’s Monographs program in order to stop the public confusion and hysteria around cancer prevention.”

Chairman Gowdy joins a number of high ranking congressional and executive branch voices that have called on NIH to release the AHS, including former Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

In addition there have been a number of congressional inquiries into IARC’s dubious scientific methods over the past year and a half. Here are a few:

  • Jun. 7, 2016: Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, requested “transcribed interviews” with four EPA employees who were involved in IARC’s monograph on glyphosate.
  • Sept. 26, 2016: House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to NIH Director Francis Collins asking about NIH’s financial support for IARC
  • Jan. 12, 2017: House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to the NIH and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) questioning whether IARC was trying to “avoid public scrutiny” by asking its experts not to disclose requested information.
  • Mar. 24, 2017: Members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent a letter to former HHS Secretary Tom Price formally launching an investigation into numerous grants and contracts awarded to the Ramazzini Institute and its affiliates at the Collegium Ramazzini. In years past, this foreign cancer research agency has been widely criticized for lacking scientific integrity and has shrouded its lab results in secrecy.

CAPHR and ACC President Cal Dooley has repeatedly urged global policymakers to investigate IARC’s Monographs program and reform a fundamentally flawed program. CAPHR is encouraged that lawmakers are investigating the agency to ensure that American taxpayer dollars fund sound, unbiased science, and that transparent science is the basis for public health policy decisions.