"It is critical that federal scientific agencies tasked with protecting human and environmental health be able to inform the public without repercussions from industry groups, which have a vested interest in widespread marketing of their toxic products."
beyondpesticides.org, 11 October 2016
(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2016) Last week, in a calculated attack on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC), the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform summoned the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to answer questions about taxpayer contributions to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency. From reports, it is easy to gather that the committee has problems with IARC scientists’ findings that glyphosate, among other things, is a probable carcinogen. Led by Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the hearing is clearly aimed at undermining IARC’s March 2015 listing of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity found in laboratory studies.
Set to take place in private, limiting any opportunity for public oversight, the hearing will consist of NIH officials answering questions on the scientific processes and public funding from politically-charged committee investigators. If Rep. Chaffetz is persuasive in this rouse against science, he stands to put in jeopardy a significant amount funding for IARC provided by NIH, a devastating outcome for individuals who value the importance of IARC’s work in the scientific community.
Glyphosate, which is produced and sold as RoundupTM by Monsanto, has been touted by industry and EPA as a “low toxicity” chemical, “safer” than other chemicals. It is widely used in food production and on lawns, gardens, parks, and children’s playing fields. However, IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a Group 2A “probable” carcinogen revealed to the world that glyphosate is anything but safe. According to IARC’s 2015 findings, Group 2A means that the chemical is probably carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. The agency considered the findings from an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel report, along with several recent studies in making its conclusion. The agency also noted that glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells. Further, epidemiologic studies have found that exposure to glyphosate is significantly associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL).
In defending IARC’s previous findings, IARC director Christopher Wild, Ph.D. rejected Rep. Chaffetz’ criticisms and defended IARC’s findings, known as “monographs,” as “widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and. . .freedom from conflicts of interest.” He also pointed to IARC’s willingness to adjust these monographs to be consistent with future findings, as they did with coffee, as evidence that IARC is solely concerned with uncovering the truth, not pushing any sort of hidden agenda. Coffee was classified “no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect” after an original listing as “possibly carcinogenic” based on a reevaluation using additional science. The intentions of IARC’s scientists are further supported by comments from Aaron Blair, Ph.D., a National Cancer Institute researcher, author of more than 450 publications on occupational and environmental causes of cancer, and chair of IARC’s evaluation panel that found glyphosate (Roundup) to be a carcinogen. Dr. Blair spoke at Beyond Pesticides 34th National Pesticide Forum. His full remarks on the subject can be viewed here.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the U.S. government has tried to stifle scientific findings in order to its own position or that of the regulated industry. In 2015, one of the top entomologists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a whistleblower complaint against a federal agency, citing unprofessional retaliation following the publication of a study linking neonicotinoid insecticides to the decline of monarch butterflies. Jonathan Lundgren, Ph.D., senior research entomologist and lab supervisor for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in South Dakota, faced suspension for publishing research deemed “sensitive” by his USDA superior, underscoring why legal protections for government scientists are sorely needed.
A similar attack was waged on Harvard educated biologist and professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D. by the chemical industry. In a study funded by Navartis Agribusiness, Dr. Hayes’ research found that the herbicide atrazine feminizes male frogs and that amphibian species are in decline because of its pervasive use. Dr. Hayes’ work showed that current regulatory reviews allow widespread use of pesticides that cause serious adverse effects well below allowable legal standards and when in mixtures not studied. When Novartis Agribusiness, one of two corporations that would later form Syngenta and the maker of atrazine, found out that Dr. Hayes’ findings contradicted its expected or desired outcome, Dr. Hayes was criticized by the company, which withdrew its funding. Dr. Hayes continued hisresearch with independent funding and found more of the same results: exposure to doses of atrazine as small as 0.1 parts per billion (below allowed regulatory limits) turns tadpoles into hermaphrodites –organisms with both male and female sexual characteristics. When his work appeared in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sygenta attacked the study, starting an epic feud between the scientist and the corporation. In fact, a June 2013 investigative report by 100Reporters and Environmental Health News exposed the chemical giant’s multi-million dollar campaign to discredit atrazine critics. This undermining of scientific research led Beyond Pesticides to develop the Fund for Independent Science.
The Fund for Independent Science was developed to act as a mechanism for raising substantial dollars from those who support independent scientific research to inform sound public policy that protects health and the environment. Independent scientists are needed to understand the toxicology of chemicals that are allowed to be introduced into the environment and the food supply. This information is critical to influence state and local decision makers to act because of industry-dominated regulatory decisions, such as The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs’ counter determination that glyphosate does not cause cancer. Building systems that are not reliant on toxic inputs requires continual understanding of the destructive capacity of toxic materials in commerce and the sustainable practices that can replace them in the marketplace.
With independent science both in and outside of the U.S., including IARC, pointing to a growing list of impacts from pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, ranging from the decline of bees to the carcinogenicity of the widely used herbicide glyphosate, it is critical that federal scientific agencies tasked with protecting human and environmental health be able to inform the public without repercussions from industry groups, which have a vested interest widespread marketing of their toxic products. Additionally, while public oversight can be a positive thing, Rep. Chaffetz’ efforts to limit NIH funding for IARC must be viewed in context, with an eye toward his ties to the agrichemical industry. For more information, see Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s (PEER) pattern of science manipulation at USDA. To see the history of industry influence in federal agencies, visit this link to our Daily News Blog.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.