Congress has opened an investigation into why a scientist at the National Cancer Institute allegedly withheld information from an international cancer research body that showed the widely used herbicide glyphosate did not cause cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, concluded in March 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Now, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is pressing the National Institutes of Health for information as to why Dr. Aaron Blair of the National Cancer Institute and a senior researcher on the Agricultural Health Study — who also led the IARC’s review of glyphosate — did not share unpublished data with the IARC that showed no cancer connection with glyphosate.
Blair did not respond to DTN’s request for comment.
In a letter to the National Institutes of Health on Tuesday, Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked the NIH for information about Blair’s activities.
Congress became involved in questioning the IARC’s decision, after it came to light the World Health Organization, or WHO, group receives funding from the United States government.
Though glyphosate was developed by Monsanto, it is off-patent and sold by many agriculture companies as one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.
Glyphosate came to market in 1974, sold under Monsanto’s Roundup label for control of perennial and annual weeds in non-crop and industrial areas. Agricultural crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate have greatly expanded the use of the chemistry since 1996. Glyphosate is also used in forestry, urban, and lawn and garden applications.
IARC relies on published studies as part of its process of examining chemicals and other materials for cancer links.
“Recent media reports indicate that an epidemiologist associated with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) possibly withheld information that could change the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) conclusion that the widely used herbicide glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic,'” Gowdy wrote in the letter.
“Specifically, Dr. Aaron Blair of the NCI acted as a senior researcher on the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which examined the effect of pesticides, including glyphosate, on thousands of American farmers. In 2013, Dr. Blair and other researchers working on the AHS prepared and reviewed papers showing no evidence that glyphosate caused cancer.
“Nonetheless, according to the report, NCI did not publish this finding. The decision to withhold this information raises a number of questions. Dr. Blair subsequently led IARC’s review of glyphosate, which did not consider the AHS finding on glyphosate allegedly because they were unpublished.”
EPA COMPLETED REVIEW
In March, a scientific panel reviewing the herbicide glyphosate for cancer connections issued a final report of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency panel that concluded there is “no reliable evidence of an association between glyphosate exposure and any solid tumor, or between glyphosate exposure and leukemia or Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
The oversight committee has been asking the NIH for information about its relationship with the IARC for the past two years.
The committee began asking questions about the funding arrangement between the NIH and IARC in letters to the NIH on Sept. 26, 2016, and Jan. 12, 2017.
In the letter this week, Gowdy said the House committee is “concerned about these new revelations, especially given Dr. Blair’s apparent admission that the AHS study was ‘powerful,’ and would alter IARC’s analysis of glyphosate.”
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Gowdy said agriculture health study researchers published “numerous studies” from the data collected. “The committee is seeking more information on why the NCI did not publish the AHS results on glyphosate,” he said.
The committee asked for a briefing with the NIH by Aug. 22, as well as documents and communications referring or relating to the decision whether to publish the AHS findings on glyphosate, and all documents and communications to or from Blair related to the AHS findings on glyphosate.
American Chemistry Council President and Chief Executive Officer Cal Dooley said in a press statement on Tuesday the investigation is warranted.
“The potential omission of critical studies from a recent monograph underscores the systematic problems that exist within the monographs program and the impact their controversial findings have on public health,” Dooley said.
“ACC has long held that this program is responsible for countless misleading headlines and inaccurate perceptions about the safety of the food we eat, the jobs we do, and the products we use in our daily lives.”
The American Chemistry Council earlier this year called for an investigation into IARC officials after the Blair connection surfaced in media reports.
“There is an urgent need to fundamentally reform IARC’s monographs program in order to stop the public confusion and hysteria around cancer prevention,” Dooley said.
In March, the European Chemicals Agency, or ECHA, concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. (http://bit.ly/…)
In addition, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California unsealed a number of documents in a lawsuit filed against Monsanto Co. That lawsuit alleges company employees served as ghost writers on two studies EPA relied on to reach its conclusion.
In September 2016, the EPA posted to its website the issue paper titled, “Glyphosate Issue Paper: Evaluation of Carcinogenic Potential,” a 227-page document outlining the voluminous studies examined by EPA.
In May 2016, EPA posted and then removed from its website a final report from the agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee, or CARC, that essentially cleared glyphosate. The agency said the report was posted inadvertently, but it caused further political and public-relations problems for the agency.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN