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US lawmakers upset with IARC over glyphosate review

US lawmakers are threatening to withdraw funding for the UN WHO’s international Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

US lawmakers are threatening to withdraw funding for the UN WHO’s international Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). They could cut funds if officials fail to respond to their queries about the group's determination that the herbicide, glyphosate, is a probable human carcinogen. Congress has appropriated some $48 million to the IARC since 1985 and $22 million of that funding has gone to the monograph programme, which reviews whether substances can cause cancer.

Republican leaders of the US House Science, Space, and Technology Committee say that their frustration with the IARC's refusal to provide witnesses for a hearing on the glyphosate monograph could jeopardise US funding of the international agency. “If IARC does not provide a full response to the request for potential witnesses, the Committee will consider whether the values of scientific integrity and transparency are reflected in IARC monographs and if future expenditures of federal taxpayer dollars to this end need to continue,” according to a December 8th letter sent by the Committee to IARC director Dr Christopher Wild.

The letter is the latest salvo in the Committee’s effort to investigate the IARC and its glyphosate assessment. Committee chair Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, sent a letter to the IARC on November 1st asking for “IARC-affiliated individuals” who could testify before the panel about how the Agency conducts its cancer reviews and to provide details about the glyphosate monograph.

The letter noted controversy surrounding a Reuters article that reported a draft version of the glyphosate document, which included comments questioning the link between the herbicide and cancer in laboratory animals. Those comments were deleted for the final IARC review, a move that critics say undermines the validity of the assessment.

Mr Smith's letter also voiced concern about the role of Dr Christopher Portier, a cancer expert and biostatistician who served on the IARC committee that conducted the glyphosate review. Dr Portier has been vocal with his concern about glyphosate's potential carcinogenicity and has consulted for plaintiffs suing Monsanto for alleged harm from exposure to the herbicide.

In a November 20th letter responding to the Committee, Dr Wild defended the IARC process and the glyphosate review without directly addressing concerns about Dr Portier. "The cancer hazard classifications made by the IARC monographs are the result of scientific deliberations of working groups of independent scientists, free from conflicts of interest," he wrote. "The resulting monograph represents the working group’s consensus conclusions, based on their critical review of the published scientific literature, agreed upon by all working group members in plenary sessions."

Dr Wild also declined to offer any names of potential witnesses for the Committee to question. “Although IARC is not in a position to provide witnesses for any potential hearing, I welcome this opportunity to respond to your various points and in so doing to correct repeated misrepresentations of the monographs promoted by some sections of the media over an extended period of time,” he wrote.

Committee leaders would be welcome to “visit the Agency” and pose their questions directly to him and his staff, Dr Wild added.

The letter has not gone down well with Mr Smith and other top Republicans on the panel, prompting the warning that the IARC funding could be pulled.  “Given the serious nature of [our] concerns related to expenditures of taxpayer dollars, the Committee's request for a witness to provide testimony regarding this matter should not be disregarded by IARC,” Mr Smith said in his latest letter. “As such, we reiterate the request in our November 1st 2017 letter.”

Mr Smith has asked for a response from the IARC by December 15th.

 

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