IARC on defensive against criticism of research methods

What did the International Agency for Research on Cancer do to make Reuters mad? That’s the question I asked the other day after reading the latest in a series of skirmishes between the IARC and the London-based news service.

It seems to have started last April when Reuters published an article noting that of the 989 substances and activities the IARC has assessed over the last 40 years only one was found to “probably not” cause cancer in humans. See http://reut.rs/2e1DjKf.

The lone substance in nearly 1,000 that is probably not carcinogenic? The plastic in the bristles of a tooth brush. The IARC, which is often identified as an arm of the World Health Organization but is not, has said everything from red and processed meats to working as a painter can “probably” cause the disease.

Reuters, which used a photo of frying bacon to illustrate its story, pointed out the WHO had walked back from IARC’s classification of bacon as a carcinogen, saying that, eaten in moderation, it could be part of a healthy diet.

It’s unusual for news organizations to go after non-governmental agencies with environmental-activist leanings. (When’s the last time you saw the Associated Press or NBC do a scathing investigative piece on the Natural Resources Defense Council or Environmental Working Group?)

Since then, Reuters has published articles on the IARC’s advice to scientists working on its monograph series to withhold information from U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. IARC responded with a snippy press release that appeared to try to tie Reuters in with Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto. (http://bit.ly/2eWr4vP)

Monsanto makes glyphosate, which may be one of the most famous of the IARC’s targets. The agency stirred up a hornet’s nest when it said glyphosate could probably cause cancer in humans in a monograph it published in March of 2015. http://bit.ly/2eLyllR.

That finding has come under increasing fire from government agencies and scientists who have disputed the IARC research methods. The latest: An Oct. 26 press release by 10 experts in a number of disciplines that said IARC’s “cancer classification schemes were outmoded.”

The IARC’s glyphosate group has also become the focus of an inquiry by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The inquiry is trying to determine whether EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was trying to mislead Congress or was simply mislead when she said EPA staff members were not involved in writing the glyphosate monograph. http://bit.ly/2eWOrpn

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