U.S. chemical industry body calls for reform of WHO cancer agency

LONDON (Reuters) - The American Chemistry Council industry body called on Wednesday for World Health Organization’s cancer agency to reform, accusing it of “dubious and misleading” work in classifying potential carcinogens.

Launching what it called a campaign for accuracy in public health research, the ACC, which represents U.S. chemical companies, said the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) evaluations “have a significant impact on U.S. public policy” and should be based on “transparent, thorough assessment of the best available science”.

No one at IARC - a France-based semi-autonomous agency of the WHO - responded to Reuters’ phone calls and emails asking for comment on the ACC’s criticisms.

As part of its work on cancer research, IARC publishes evaluations - known as monographs - on whether certain chemicals, lifestyles and activities may cause cancer.

Its assessments of whether such things as coffee, mobile phones, processed meat and the weedkiller glyphosate cause cancer have caused particular controversy in recent years.

But IARC has repeatedly defended its work as scientifically sound and says its monographs are “widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and ... freedom from conflicts of interest”.

Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement: “IARC monographs program has been responsible for countless misleading headlines about the safety of the food we eat, the jobs we do and the products we use in our daily lives.”

She said IARC’s work “suffers from persistent scientific and process deficiencies that result in public confusion and misinformed policy-making”, and said the ACC would offer specific proposals for reform of the agency’s processes.

As well as Wednesday’s criticisms from ACC, IARC has also come under fire in recent months from U.S. lawmakers who are questioning why U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to fund it.

The WHO agency is also embroiled in a row with Congress, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the European Food Safety Authority over its review of the weedkiller glyphosate.

IARC classifies glyphosate, a key ingredient of Monsanto Co’s herbicide Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic”, but that assessment is at odds with many government regulators, including those in the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, who say it is unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans.

The ACC said it had been prompted to launch its campaign after leading scientists criticized IARC’s monographs program “for its lack of transparency, minimal consideration of the weight of scientific evidence, misapplied conflict of interest policies and confusing communication of its...decisions”.

“Public policy must be based on a transparent, thorough assessment of the best available science,” Dooley said. “Currently, IARC’s monographs do not meet this standard, though U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for over two-thirds of the international program’s budget.”

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Dominic Evans