Open Record on IARC Process

Scientists Face Scrutiny Over Report Declaring Glyphosate a Probable Carcinogen

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a report last year declaring the herbicide glyphosate a probable carcinogen. Since then, the group's research methods have come under question and more people are demanding open records about IARC's work on the glyphosate finding. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- University and EPA scientists who took part in an international review last year that declared glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic" are facing more backlash than they likely anticipated.

Scientists involved in the International Agency for Research on Cancer's controversial conclusion on glyphosate are under more scrutiny as congressional committees weigh their motivations and possible conflicts of interest. At the same time, IARC is under fire as law firms and Monsanto file record requests seeking documents related to the agency's work.

Reuters first reported this week that the IARC, an arm of the World Health Organization, asked its glyphosate working group not to release documents under U.S. Freedom of Information laws. The IARC disputed that claim in a detailed response: "IARC staff did not instruct anyone not to comply with records requests made under national or local laws."…

IARC has come under fire over its broad declarations about what is carcinogenic in summary reports the IARC calls "monographs." The agency, for instance, drew a lot of scorn last year for a monograph classifying processed red meats such as bacon as carcinogenic.

The glyphosate finding last year set off a series of reactions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has since tried to complete its own analysis on glyphosate, released and retracted a report refuting the IARC's conclusion, and is now drawing fire from Congress for delays regarding the final report, which likely will carry into 2017.

In the meantime, Monsanto has been sued in dozens of cases by people claiming various cancers can be linked back to glyphosate. Law firms also continue to advertise in search of clients who may have some form of cancer and a link to glyphosate. In nearly every case filed, the lawsuit cites the IARC's findings.

"The IARC evaluation is significant. It confirms what has been believed for years -- that glyphosate is toxic to humans," stated one lawsuit filed in federal court in Hawaii against Monsanto.

Monsanto has filed Freedom of Information Act requests against U.S. scientists involved in the IARC working group on glyphosate. The company has issued subpoenas seeking records, as well. Other law firms and interest groups claiming a stake in the debate have filed various record requests as well against the National Institute of Health and EPA.

IARC noted in a statement on its website, "IARC considers any measures that would discourage scientists from participating in monographs or would detract from open scientific debate to be contrary to the best interest of international public health."

In a statement to DTN, Monsanto executives questioned the transparency of IARC's process, noting IARC's encouragement to scientists to avoid responding to public-record requests for documents related to the glyphosate report.

"This latest disclosure of IARC's internal correspondence with the U.S. government shows the extent they will go in order to hide their process from U.S. officials, regulators, and the public," said Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president of strategy. "It's ridiculous that IARC would ask U.S. governmental agencies and other public institutions to hide public documents. The public deserves a process that is guided by sound science, not IARC's secret agendas."

DTN reached out about the records dispute to Ivan Rusyn, a professor at the Texas A&M University department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences who was a member of the IARC working group. Rusyn responded in an email that DTN's questions would need to be directed to Texas A&M's FOIA office. "I do not believe I can provide any information to you directly given that some of these requests are still pending," Rusyn stated.

Other U.S. scientists who were members of IARC's working group on glyphosate are now drawing the wrath of Congress. Earlier this week, the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking about "misleading testimony" from McCarthy earlier this summer over the glyphosate study.

McCarthy had indicated at a June 22 hearing that no EPA officials worked on the IARC glyphosate study in regard to the carcinogen issues, but McCarthy also acknowledged three employees were tied to the IARC's work in some manner with at least one employee considered an observer in the process. The committee obtained documents that indicated the three EPA employees were more involved than McCarthy claimed.

"What is most unfortunate about this matter is that this is just another example of EPA's inability to perform the most basic of its statutory functions," the letter states. "Throughout the course of this administration, the EPA has been laser focused on its regulatory agenda, promulgating some of the most complex and wide-reaching rules under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. No one would dispute how prolific the agency has been in its rulemaking. But that is the problem. The EPA's sole focus on regulation has caused the agency to disregard process and basic environmental protection."

The House Science Committee also questions the relationship between EPA and Christopher Portier, a retired official from the Centers of Disease Control who works as a consultant for the Environmental Defense Fund and was listed as an IARC adviser on the glyphosate report. Portier exchanged emails with top EPA officials about EPA's own Cancer Assessment Review Committee report that declared glyphosate likely was not carcinogenic. EPA posted that report briefly, then pulled it off its website. The House Science Committee also stated Portier had written a letter to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) over its assessment critical of the IARC carcinogenic finding.

The House Science Committee questioned Portier's influence at EPA, stating he had tried to use IARC "to influence global policy decisions," including influence EPA's work on glyphosate.

Further complicating Portier's ties here, his brother Kenneth Portier, a vice president for the American Cancer Society, was included in EPA's Scientific Advisory Panel studying glyphosate.

DTN tried unsuccessfully to reach Christopher Portier at the Environmental Defense Fund, where he consults, as well as Emory University in Georgia where he is listed as an adjunct professor. Environmental Defense Fund responded that Portier works for the group part-time on air pollution and climate change modeling, but does not work with EDF on glyphosate.

In his letter, House Science Committee Chairman Smith expects EPA to make available three of its staff for interviews with the committee by the end of business on Tuesday.…

EPA did not respond to a request from DTN for comment.

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Chris Clayton