Win! IARC, Global Cancer Agency Fends Off Industry Attack

Good news out of Washington DC! There are still heroes in Congress that are going to the mat to defend science, protect health, and prevent cancer. Champions of public health on the Senate and House appropriations committees were successful in stripping away a ‘poison pill’ rider that would have defunded research on the carcinogenic risks of common chemicals unless the research organization met a number of politically motivated obstacles designed to interfere with objective science (Section 229 IARC rider on page 110 of the Appropriations Bill here). 

NRDC was joined in a letter to Congress by 17 organizations and 114 physicians, scientists, and health professionals in the US and globally that voiced strong opposition to the rider. It was snuck into the House Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bills for fiscal year 2019, and would have zeroed out the financial contributions that the US makes to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC does the globally important work of identifying carcinogens to support public health policies to prevent disease and deaths from cancer.

Thankfully, the negotiators approved the Labor Health and Human Services FY19 Appropriations Bill without the offending language.  

About 25 Nations contribute to IARC’s total budget of about $50 million US dollars (about 44 million Euros), with about 7.5% (about $3.8 million US dollars) coming from the US.

The attack on IARC is part of a larger corporate product defense strategy.

IARC has long been the target of criticism from chemical manufacturers and the regulated industries whose products are the subject of Monograph evaluations. However, the expanded chemical product defense strategy now includes US Member of Congress, the White House, and federal agency political appointees. It includes:

  • Attempts to discredit and defund chemical assessment programs like IARC;
  • Re-classification of government-funded scientists as having financial conflicts, blocking them from service on federal advisory committees while permitting industry representatives (the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act);
  • Excluding peer-reviewed studies from regulatory consideration because complete datasets are not made public or they fail to follow the chemical industry definition of ‘best available science’ while favoring industry-sponsored guideline studies that are often not published or otherwise publicly available, so cannot be independently reviewed (the discredited EPA Science Transparency Rule, and the EPA TSCA Systematic Review).

The scientific community has voiced strong opposition to these regressive policies. A Joint Statement of scientific journal editors from Science, Nature, PLOS journals, PNAS, and Cell raised the alarm that political or policy measures that restrict the use of science will compromise resulting scientific assessments: "It does not strengthen policies based on scientific evidence to limit the scientific evidence that can inform them... Excluding relevant studies simply because they do not meet rigid transparency standards will adversely affect decision-making processes."

Hazardous chemical assessments must be done using all available information, evaluated using systematic review methods that meet globally established best practices, as is done by IARC.

Note for science-detail wonks, I wrote lengthy technical recommendations to IARC on its guidance for evaluating chemical carcinogens. IARC Monographs provide authoritative scientific evaluations of agents including industrial chemicals linked to human cancer risk. The Preamble to the Monographs describes the scientific principles and procedures used when conducting a chemical evaluation, the types of evidence considered and the scientific criteria that guide the evaluations. It is updated on a regular schedule through a public process that invites input from global cancer experts and others. My recommendations provide a detailed rebuttal to the industry attacks on the IARC process, as well as outline areas where IARC could go further to fend off attempts to undermine its scientific process.

Link to the Scientist letter opposing the poison pill rider: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/nrdc-letter-oppose-iarc-poison-pill-rider-fy19-house-spending-bill

Link to the recommendations to IARC on its Preamble: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/nrdc-recommendations-iarc-preamble

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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