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Congress To Probe Into NIH’s Funding Of WHO Cancer Agency

Officials at the National Institutes of Health will be questioned by a congressional committee on the funding of a controversial World Health Organization cancer agency, an exclusive from Reuters reports.

An aide to the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said that NIH officials will be giving the committee a briefing after lawmakers questioned why taxpayers’ money is going to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The semi-autonomous agency is a part of the WHO, based in Lyon, France and is under fire over its classification of carcinogens.

The in-person hearing will be conducted in private, between the NIH officials and committee investigators, the aide said. No date has been set, but both parties are working to schedule it soon.

The committee’s chairman expressed his concern over a growing number of lawmakers who questioned the way the IARC reviews and classifies cancer-causing substances. Experts and critics say the agency can be too quick to slap carcinogen labels on things, causing needless health scares. The IARC, for its part, maintains that its methods are based on scientific evidence.

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz wrote a letter to NIH director Francis Collins, citing the IARC’s “record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies,” and wanting to know why the NIH continued to fund it. Chaffetz added,

IARC’s standards and determinations for classifying substances as carcinogenic, and therefore cancer-causing, appear inconsistent with other scientific research, and have generated much controversy and alarm.

The NIH confirmed that they received the letter and that they will address everything directly with the investigating committee.

The WHO says to refer all questions to the IARC. Chris Wild, director of the agency, wrote a letter to the NIH saying the criticisms are invalid and that the IARC’s classifications are “widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and … freedom from conflicts of interest.”

Chaffetz is asking the NIH to give a full report on its guidelines for awarding grants and how the recipients are vetted, along with a disclosure of NIH funds provided to the IARC or anything spent on research or activities conducted.

The investigation could put a significant dent in the IARC’s budget, as its resources are relatively modest. In 2014, its revenue was only 30 million euros, or $33 million.

According to Chaffetz, the NIH has funneled over $1.2 million to the IARC this year and has given a total of around $40 million to the agency since 1992.

The American Chemistry Council, another critic of the IARC, welcomed the news, calling the agency’s process “fundamentally-flawed” with “questionable results.” The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), both United Nations and United States regulators have also disputed the IARC’s classification of glyphosate, a weed killer that the agency claimed is “probably carcinogenic.”

This conflict impelled Robert Aderholt, chairman of the US Congressional Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, to write to the NIH, questioning the national body’s grants to the IARC. The move has led to this congressional hearing the NIH is facing.

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