Editor’s note: Over four decades, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has assessed 989 substances and activities, ranging from arsenic to red meat to working as a painter to sunlight, and found all but one of them were likely to cause cancer in humans. Ranked among the “Group 1 Carcinogens” are wood dust and Chinese salted fish.
The findings are used by many global agencies to inform regulators. But they have caused consternation, particularly among scientists who believe the evaluation standards, established decades ago, are out of touch with modern toxicological knowledge. At stake are judgments that can affect the lives of millions of people and the economic activities of states and multinational companies. IARC’s rulings influence many things, from whether chemicals are licensed for use in industry to whether consumers accept certain products or lifestyles.
Concerns about glyphosate’s health impacts increased in 2015 after IARC classified the herbicide glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic,” using its hazard evaluation standards. The IARC classification was widely circulated by anti-chemical and anti-GMO advocacy groups, which argued for bans or tighter restrictions.
More recent controversies over classification of red meat and processed meat as cancer-causing have spurred scientists and regulators to re-examine IARC’s methodologies and mandate. Ten leading scientists authored a paper for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology calling for reform of IARC’s mandate and techniques, which most dramatically impact European regulations but also oversight in North America. Three of those scientists who co-authored the journal article discuss the reforms necessary to bring IARC’s practices into the 21st century. The authors:
- Alan R Boobis: Centre for Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Toxicology Unit, Department of Medicine, Hammersmith Campus, Imperial College London, London, W12 0NN, UK
- Angelo Moretto: Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche e Cliniche (Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences) Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy
- Samuel M Cohen: Department of Pathology and Microbiology, Havlik-Wall Professor of Oncology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198-3135, USA.*Correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org