Cancer Research Questioned

House Committee Looks Into International Cancer Agency

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A House committee is asking questions about federal funds given to the IARC. (Logo courtesy of the World Health Organization)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Because the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, receives federal funding, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is launching an inquiry into the National Institutes of Health's support for the group that has made several controversial proclamations about agricultural chemicals and their safety.

On Monday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee chairman, asked in a letter to the National Institute of Health to provide a number of documents and to agree to a briefing with committee staff.

Although the IARC's work has faced scrutiny in agriculture circles for its classification of herbicides glyphosate and 2,4-D as "probably carcinogenic" to humans, the IARC has assessed 989 substances as of April 2016. The group determined just one ingredient found in nylon is "probably not" carcinogenic. That means the other 988 substances either pose some level of risk, according to IARC, or require more research to determine the level of risk.

In his letter, Chaffetz said conclusions by the IARC have contradicted a body of science on glyphosate, 2,4-D and a number of other substances.

"Despite this record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies, IARC receives substantial taxpayer funding from NIH," he writes in the letter. "NIH's grant database reflects that the agency has given IARC several millions of dollars since 1992, including over $1.2 million so far this year.

"Moreover, IARC's determinations influence American policymaking, even though IARC avoids having to meet the strict scientific standards and government scrutiny afforded to science advisory committees in America."

The IARC was created in 1965 and includes the U.S. as one of its founding members.

According to a search tool on the NIH website, the institute has issued nine grants for $3.153 million to the IARC this year. The NIH funds more than $32 billion in health research annually.

Despite the concern leveled by Chaffetz and others, government agencies in the United States are not bound by IARC determinations.

The state of California, however, considers the IARC to be an authoritative body for identifying cancer-causing chemicals.

"Following IARC's determination regarding glyphosate, California issued a notice of intent to list the chemical 'as known to the state to cause cancer' under California law," Chaffetz said in the letter.

"This listing would subject glyphosate and products containing it, to enhanced consumer warnings and other restrictions. If IARC later decides to adopt the findings of other researchers that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, it could create confusion and other problems in California and elsewhere."

The chemical 2,4-D is used to control noxious and invasive weeds.

Environmental groups and others have tried to make a connection between the use of 2,4-D today and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The component of that jungle herbicide mix connected to health issues of Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers was 2,4,5-T, not 2,4-D. Regulators banned 2,4,5-T decades ago.

New formulations of 2,4-D are the foundation of the latest genetically engineered corn and soybean crops aimed at combatting weeds that have evolved to be resistant to glyphosate. Those and similar seed-herbicide packages, which are just coming to market, have increased the debate over the safety of older, growth-regulator herbicides.

Chaffetz asked NIH officials to take part in the briefing no later than Oct. 10.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Cancer Assessment Review Committee, or CARC, completed a report last year entitled, "Cancer Assessment Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate." The CARC report posted inadvertently concludes glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. EPA officials posted the report April 29 then removed it May 2. Yet EPA insisted when the agency took down the report that more work needed to be done. The EPA just recently released a 200-plus-page report concluding glyphosate likely was not carcinogenic.

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, but regulators in both Europe and the U.S. have been reviewing the science and market approval for the herbicide ever since the IARC concluded in March 2015 that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic" to humans.

A House Science Committee investigation also focuses not only on the inadvertent release of the EPA's report last spring, but whether there was any connection between the EPA's analysis and conclusions reached by the IARC.

Read the Chaffetz letter here:…

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