The woman chosen by president Donald Trump and now confirmed as the US ambassador to the United Nations has launched a scathing attack on the international body which could embolden an industry lobby angry at the UN’s role in assessing chemical cancer risks.
During her confirmation hearing , Nikki Haley said: “When we look at the United Nations, we see a chequered history… any honest assessment finds an institution that is often at odds with the American national interest and American taxpayers.”
Haley was signalling that international agencies will have to answer to an ‘America First’ administration hostile to global policymakers. One already in the crosshairs is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is under the purview of the UN’s World Health Organisation.
After industry criticism of recent cancer assessments by the agency, notably on the pesticide glyphosate, and calls spearheaded by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) for the US to cut funds to IARC, Republican lawmakers rallied to the industry call.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Jason Chaffetz said the IARC has a “record of controversy, retractions, and inconsistencies” and asked why the National Institutes of Health has spent $40 million since 1992 to fund it. Chaffetz expressed concern that the IARC “influences American policymaking, even though IARC avoids having to meet the strict scientific standards and government scrutiny afforded to science advisory committees in America.”
The statement was straight from the industry playbook. Speaking as he announced its latest salvo, a ‘Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research‘ launched on 25 January 2017, ACC president and CEO Cal Dooley said: “Public policy must be based on a transparent, thorough assessment of the best available science.” He continued: “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.”
This prolonged attack has however been refuted by many of the world’s top research scientists, including leading US cancer epidemiologists.
Their June 2015 paper in Environmental Health Perspectives, a respected peer-reviewed journal supported by US government’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), noted: “Debate and criticism facilitate self-correction and a check on the validity in science. We are concerned, however, that the criticisms expressed by a vocal minority regarding the evaluations of a few agents may promote the denigration of a process that has served the public and public health well for many decades for reasons that are not supported by data.”
The paper concludes “as a group of international scientists, we have looked carefully at the recent charges of flaws and bias in the hazard evaluations by IARC Working Groups, and we have concluded that the recent criticisms are unfair and unconstructive.”
- Neil Pearce, Aaron Blair, Paolo Vineis and others. IARC Monographs: 40 Years of Evaluating Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans, Environmental Health Perspectives, volume 123, issue 6, June 2015.