Thursday, November 30, 2017

For the UN's cancer research agency, a chance to redeem itself?

By Richard Zuber November 30, 2017

Facing mounting criticism from multiple sides, the embattled International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a semi-independent branch of the UN’s World Health Organization, has announced that it is searching for a new leader. The search is starting at a time when the agency has hit its lowest point yet, as Congress has ramped up investigations into the way IARC carries out its assessments of the carcinogenicity of everyday substances.

To save any vestiges of the agency’s credibility, the new director needs to ensure they carry out several key reforms, using all available scientific evidence to make their evaluations, and communicating their findings clearly. At the moment, this simply isn’t the case -- and their assessments have more often left the American public confused.

Since 1971, IARC has examined nearly 1,000 agents, but it has been the subject of attacks for the way it carries out these evaluations -- not surprising, given the fact that it has only found that one substance -- caprolactam, a precursor to nylon -- probably doesn’t cause cancer.

The latest firestorm has arisen over IARC’s assessment of glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, as “probably carcinogenic” in 2015. Their opaque review process ended up causing two Congressional committees to launch investigations into IARC over the past year. Most recently, the Republican chairmen of the House Science Committee and Subcommittee on Environment sent two letters to IARC expressing “concern” about the “scientific integrity” of IARC’s assessments.

The letters were part of a wider probe launched last year into U.S. taxpayer funding for the agency, which has received more than $48 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly half of which was channeled to the assessments program........... Read more


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