Will Congress finally get tough on junk science?
By Paul Driessen
A growing problem for modern industrialized Western societies is the legion of government agencies and unelected bureaucrats and allied nongovernmental organizations that seem impervious to transparency, accountability or reform. Their expansive power often controls public perceptions and public policies.
Prominent among them are those involved in climate change research and energy policy. In recent years, they have adjusted data to fit the dangerous manmade climate chaos narrative, while doling out billions of taxpayer dollars for research that supports this perspective, and basing dire predictions and policy demands primarily on climate models that assume carbon dioxide now drives climate and weather (and the sun, water vapor, ocean currents and other powerful natural forces have been relegated to minor roles).
Reform is essential. Meanwhile, another troubling example underscores the scope of the problem and the difficulties Congress and other government administrators face when they try to rein in rogue agencies.
In November 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) a letter raising questions about scientific bias, secrecy and corruption at the agency. When IARC obfuscated the issues, the committee sent a second letter, seeking answers within a week.
Otherwise, the Committee said, it would consider “whether the values of scientific integrity and transparency are reflected in IARC monographs and if future expenditures of federal taxpayer dollars need to continue.” The United States is the IARC monograph program’s biggest contributor, having given it nearly $50 million to date.
Agency director Dr. Christopher Wild bided his time four weeks before replying (many would say rather testily and condescendingly) and concluding: “IARC would be grateful if the House Science Committee would take all necessary measures to ensure that the immunity of the Organization, its officials and experts, as well as the inviolability of its archives and documents, are fully respected.” [emphasis added]
Refusing to be cowed, on February 6 the committee held a hearing, “In Defense of Scientific Integrity: Examining the IARC Monograph Programme and Glyphosate Review.” Evidence presented revealed that the monograph program is an antiquated approach that simply tries to determine from laboratory studies whether a particular chemical might cause cancer in test animals, even if only at ridiculously high levels that no human would or could ever be exposed to in the real world.
IARC performs no actual risk assessments that examine the potency of a substance to humans or the level of exposure at which the substance might actually have an adverse effect on people. It thus places bacon, sausage, plutonium and sunlight together in Group 1, its highest risk category: “definitely carcinogenic.” This provides no useful information from a public health perspective, but does give ammunition to activists who want to stoke fear and get chemicals they dislike banned.
IARC’s Group 2B carcinogens include caffeic acid, which is found in coffee, tea, and numerous healthy, must-eat fruits and vegetables, including apples, blueberries, broccoli, kale and onions. This group also includes acetaldehyde, which is found in bread, ginkgo balboa and aloe vera, lead Science Committee witness Dr. Timothy Pastoor noted in his testimony.
As Pastor also pointed out during the hearing, countless chemicals could theoretically cause cancer in humans at extremely high doses – but are completely harmless at levels encountered in our daily lives.
But it’s not just IARC’s overall approach that raises questions. As investigative journalists David Zaruk and Kate Kelland discovered, serious allegations have also been raised regarding the integrity of IARC’s review process. These include evidence that IARC deleted or manipulated data – and covered up major conflicts of interest by agency panel members who were employed by environmental activists and mass tort plaintiff attorneys who are targeting the very chemicals the panelists were reviewing and judging.
IARC’s latest quarry is glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. The principal ingredient in the weed killer RoundUp, glyphosate is vital in modern agriculture, especially no-till farming.
The European Food Safety Authority, European Chemicals Agency, German Institute for Risk Assessment, US Environmental Protection Agency and other experts all found that glyphosate is safe and non-carcinogenic. So did the 25-year, multi-agency US Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which analyzed data on more than 89,000 farmers, commercial applicators, other glyphosate users and their spouses.
IARC alone says glyphosate is likely a cancer-causing agent – contradicting every other regulatory and reputable scientific body around the world. How could it possibly reach such a different conclusion?
According to Zaruk, Kelland and committee members, IARC deliberately ignored the AHS analysis. The chairman of the IARC working group on glyphosate later admitted in a sworn deposition that this study would have “altered IARC’s analysis.”
When an animal pathology report clearly said researchers “unanimously” agreed glyphosate had not caused abnormal growths in mice they had studied, IARC deleted the problematical sentence.
In other cases, IARC panelists inserted new statistical analyses that effectively reversed a study’s original finding, or quietly changed critical language exonerating the herbicide.
Meanwhile, Dr. Christopher Portier, the “consulting expert” for the working group that labeled glyphosate as “probably” cancer-causing, admitted in his own sworn testimony that – just a few days after IARC announced its guilty verdict – he signed a contract to serve as consultant to a law firm that is suing the chemical’s manufacturer (Monsanto) based on that verdict. Portier collected at least $160,000 just for his initial preparatory work.
Adding to the confusion and collusion, say Committee members, Linda Birnbaum’s $690-million-per-year National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (in the National Institutes of Health) has been collaborating with the same government agencies, pressure groups, trial lawyers and yet another anti-chemical activist organization, the Ramazzini Institute in Italy.
This is not science. It is corruption distortion and fraud – supported by our tax dollars and used to get important chemicals off the market.
The end result, if not the goal, is to undermine public confidence in science-based risk assessments, lend credibility to activist campaigns claiming numerous chemicals contaminate our foods and poison our bodies, and enable predatory tort lawyers to get rich suing manufacturers and driving them into bankruptcy.
Dr. Wild’s letters clearly suggest that IARC views the Science Committee’s concerns about the agency’s lack of scientific integrity and transparency as irrelevant – as a mere irritant, a minor threat to his agency’s unbridled power … and something the US government will ultimately do nothing to correct.
We will soon find out whether IARC is right – or if Congress is finally ready to play hardball with this unethical UN agency.
It’s also an important test for congressional oversight, spine and intestinal fortitude on holding other deep state agencies accountable for how they spend our money, what kind of science or pseudo-science they support and conduct, and how they will affect or even determine the public policies that in so many ways are the foundation of our economy, livelihoods and living standards.
PS: The Science Committee has also discovered that Vladimir Putin’s Internet Research Agency engaged in significant hacking, to inflame social media and instigate discord over US energy development and climate change policies – while Putin cronies laundered millions to fund radical green organizations. That too must be addressed by Congress and administrative agencies, including the Justice Department.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.