Italian institute criticized by U.S. Congress defends its work

LONDON, April 11 (Reuters) - An Italian research institute under scrutiny from American lawmakers, who have questioned why U.S. taxpayer money is awarded to it in grants, has strongly rejected criticism of its work and financing.

In a statement sent to Reuters on Tuesday, the Italian-based Ramazzini Institute (RI), which conducts research into cancer and its causes, stressed that its procedures “adhere to the most stringent international scientific standards”.

“We strongly reject the attempt to inject doubts about the scientific integrity of the Ramazzini Institute,” it said.

The RI is under pressure from the heads of two congressional committees who wrote last month to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price asking for documents to explain the financial links between the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Ramazzini.

Their inquiry follows the launch of a similar probe late last year by members of Congress who questioned the U.S. National Institutes of Health over its grants to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), based in Lyon, France.

In the letter to Price, Lamar Smith and Darin LaHood, respectively chairs of the Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Oversight Subcommittee, said they were “concerned that contracts awarded to the Ramazzini Institute and its affiliates may not meet adequate scientific integrity standards”.

They said records and reports indicate that in the past 30 years, NIEHS provided hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to Ramazzini “fellows” - scientists and researchers, some of whom work for the institute or are affiliated to it.

Responding, the RI said in its statement that while it had received financial support from the NIEHS from 2009 to 2016 of approximately 1.5 million euros, the majority of its funding came either from its own members, or from grants “from a great number of Italian and international authorities”.

The RI describes itself as “a non-profit cooperative with over 28,000 members”, who it says are the owners of the Institute.

“This model of shared ownership ensures the

independence of its scientific activities,” the statement said.

The institute said it was “a mistake” to confuse it with the Collegium Ramazzini, which it said is an international academy of more than 180 experts in the field of occupational and environmental medicine from 32 countries.

While some of the Institute’s researchers were also fellows of the Collegium, it said, “the budgets and financial policies of the Collegium Ramazzini and Ramazzini Institute are not related in any way”.

Over the past 40 years, the Ramazzini Institute (RI) has conducted several hundred studies on more than 200 substances including asbestos, lead, benzene, formaldehyde, various pesticides and food additives and dust from the debris of the World Trade Center.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by Andrew Roche