International Agency for Research on Cancer under attack from industry-funded scientists

Sun, Apr 24, 2016

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Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca

An article published by Reuters on April 16, 2016 attacks the work of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as biased.

In the article, How the World Health Organization’s cancer agency confuses consumers, the author, Kate Kelland, cites industry-funded scientists and anonymous critics who claim that the work of IARC should be rejected because IARC uses independent scientific experts who have carried out research and published articles on the issues being investigated by IARC. According to these critics, this expertise constitutes bias, IARC should be reined in and IARC should use scientists who do not have expertise on the issues being addressed.

This would, of course, be greatly beneficial to powerful industries, such as the chemical industry, who spend millions of dollars to suppress evidence of harm to human health caused by their products and who spend millions of dollars more on lobbyists to undermine and achieve industry influence over agencies, such as IARC, which are supposed to be independent of vested interests and whose mandate is to protect public health.

The article cites criticism of IARC by Paolo Boffetta, who states: “IARC’s approach sometimes lacks “scientific rigour” because its judgments can involve experts reviewing their own research or that of colleagues”. Boffetta has previously criticized IARC alleging that many of IARC’s working group scientists “have a vested interest in advancing their own research results in the deliberations, if only to increase their prestige and future funding opportunities. The routine inclusion of such self-interested researchers is a clear conflict of interest, and inhibits an open and robust evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the studies under examination.”

Boffetta has acted as a consultant for many industries and has published numerous articles manufacturing doubt or denying harm caused by substances such as diesel fumes, Agent Orange, and Formaldehyde, produced by the industries by whom he is funded. Boffetta has been criticized for failure to disclose his conflict of interest. Boffetta’s findings denying harm, while pleasing to the industries involved, have been rejected by independent scientists and by IARC.

The Reuters article raises doubt in particular over IARC’s conclusion that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, noting that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says glyphosate is unlikely to pose a cancer risk. Glysophate is an ingredient in Roundup, made by Monsanto, which is one of the world’s most widely-used and extremely profitable weed killers. An article published in Ecologic on April 21, 2016 describes how “Industry fingerprints are all over the Reuters’ attack on IARC over glyphosate and cancer.”

In an article, Differences in the carcinogenic evaluation of glyphosate between the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), 94 scientists  document serious flaws in EFSA’s scientific evaluation of glyphosate, resulting in an incorrect assessment by EFSA of the carcinogenic hazard from exposure to glyphosate.

While the Reuters article attacks IARC for alleged, hypothetical problems caused from using independent scientific experts, the article turns a blind eye to serious, documented criticisms of EFSA’s failure to address its gross conflict of interest problems and the fact that it is riddled with scientists with financial ties to the industries that EFSA is supposed to be “independently” regulating.

In an Open Letter of March 2, 2016 to the European Parliament, civil society organisations call for EFSA’s funds to be withheld until EFSA enacts a serious independence policy and frees itself from its current capture by the commercial interests it is supposed to regulate. In an appendix, the letter provided a list of Conflicts of interest scandals at EFSA.

The Reuters article excludes the fact that in 2014-2015 Boffetta was being paid as a consultant for Montsanto. Nor does the article disclose that in 2014 and possibly still today Boffetta was a member of an advisory group to the European Crop Protection Association, which represents the interests of the pesticide industry and whose corporate members are Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow. Nor does the article disclose that Boffetta has carried out work funded by Syngenta that denied harm caused by atrazine, a herbicide sold by Syngenta.

Boffetta has also acted as a consultant for asbestos interests. The highly respected scientific body, the Collegium Ramazzini, has described the arguments put forward by Boffetta on behalf of asbestos interests as being “false, mendacious, and scientifically unfounded.”

Reuters alleges that its article attacking IARC’s work is “investigative” journalism. It is not. It is a biased, ill-informed article that reads like a PR spin piece for Monsanto and the chemical industry.

 

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