Congress should investigate cancer collusion
© Getty Images

During her confirmation hearing to be ambassador to the United Nations, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley put the United Nations on notice that the days of being unaccountable to its top funder are over. “When we look at the United Nations, we see a checkered history … any honest assessment finds an institution that is often at odds with the American national interest and American taxpayers,” she said.

Haley essentially sent a message to all international agencies that they’ll have to answer to an “America First” administration hostile to global policymakers and a reform-minded Republican Congress.

ADVERTISEMENT
One already in the crosshairs is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is under the purview of the United Nation's World Health Organization. Congress is investigating why taxpayers continue to fund this France-based agency that’s been accused of stonewalling conflicts of interest and using shoddy science to promote a politically motivated agenda.

Each year, the IARC looks at a number of factors that may cause cancer, and almost always concludes they do. This earns the agency lots of provocative headlines — and even influences public policy — but there’s little evidence their carcinogen-mining has done anything to protect or improve public health.

In fact, the IARC has lost so much credibility over the last few years that a group of prominent toxicologists recently accused it of causing “unnecessary health scares and unnecessary diversion of public funds.”

The IARC’s 2015 report classifying the weedkiller glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) as a probable human carcinogen is one of the most controversial. Glyphosate is the target of environmental activists because it’s applied on many genetically engineered crops, known as RoundUp Ready, which they oppose because both were developed by eco-bogeyman Monsanto. Activists exploit the IARC report to stoke fear about the herbicide and are trying, particularly in the European Union, to get its use limited or banned altogether.

But hundreds of studies and government agencies around the world confirm the chemical’s safety; the IARC is the only outlier that warns glyphosate is probably carcinogenic.

Many scientific groups have disputed that claim, including a review of the IARC's work by four expert panels published in September that said “the totality of the evidence … does not support the conclusion that glyphosate is a ‘probable human carcinogen’” and that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”

Given serious doubts about the report’s integrity and the IARC’s motives, Congress is demanding answers. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCurtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Chaffetz named Harvard Institute of Politics fellow Fox's Chaffetz: Rosenstein has 'absolutely zero credibility' on going after leakers MORE (R-Utah) said the IARC has a “record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies” and asked why the National Institutes of Health has spent $40 million since 1992 to fund it.

Chaffetz expressed concern that the IARC “influences American policymaking, even though IARC avoids having to meet the strict scientific standards and government scrutiny afforded to science advisory committees in America.” He asked the NIH to brief the committee about its vetting process and provide any correspondence between the agency and the IARC.

Some congressional leaders also want to know if federal employees collaborated with the IARC on the dubious report. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, accused former Environmental Protection Agency Director Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyTrump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on EPA chief to visit Colorado mine spill site In the fight between Rick Perry and climate scientists, Perry is winning MORE of giving misleading and untruthful statements to his committee last spring when she denied any EPA employees were directly involvement with IARC work.

Smith requested interviews with EPA employees he suspected played a more significant role in IARC’s glyphosate assessment than the agency admitted. With a new incoming EPA chief, Congress might finally get some answers.

For its part, rather than fielding these concerns head-on, IARC officials are defying inquiries for more information. Despite receiving millions in U.S. tax dollars, the IARC doesn’t think it should comply with transparency laws that apply to all public employee here.

Kathryn Guyton, a top IARC official, advised scientists employed by U.S. universities who worked on the report, as well as employees at both the EPA and NIH, not to respond to open records requests: “Working Group members prepare these documents on behalf of IARC, and not as part of their official employment duties for a state or federal institution, and IARC is the sole owner of all such materials. IARC does not encourage participants to retain working drafts of documents after the related (report) is published.”

So the IARC accepts U.S. tax dollars, relies on expertise from taxpayer-paid scientists and gets assistance from federal agencies, yet it refuses to cooperate with transparency norms here. This prompted another inquiry from Chaffetz earlier this month, seeking clarification from the National Archives office about whether the IARC documents, presumably transmitted via government email addresses, were indeed subject to U.S. open records laws.  

Congress should not have to spend time and resources trying to get information from an opaque international agency that U.S. taxpayers support. Defunding the IARC immediately would prove the new administration is serious about making global agencies that readily accept American largess both accountable and transparent.

Julie Kelly is a food policy expert and a long time contributor of The Hill and National Review Online. Her work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.