UK prof defends WHO cancer agency against industry attack

A leading UK professor has defended a major World Health Organisation (WHO) agency that has been ‘vilified’ by industry lobbyists after it determined the pesticide glyphosate to be ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans.

In an expert opinion on the well-resourced, high level industry attack on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Neil Pearce, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, this controversy has led to attacks not only on the IARC decision, but also on some of those involved in the IARC Monograph meeting which made the decision, and on IARC itself.

“These events are not happening in a vacuum. There have been attacks on previous IARC decisions on potential causes of cancer such as formaldehyde, diesel fumes and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. More ominously, there are moves by some governments to threaten to cut the funding of IARC, in response to these recent ‘inconvenient’ decisions.”

The professor added: “We all look up to IARC and see it as a beacon of independence and objectivity in a world which is becoming increasingly partisan and polarised, and in which scientific evidence is increasingly disparaged and ignored. Facts matter, science matters, and in this field, there is no other agency which even comes close to IARC in terms of independence, objectivity, and transparency.

“A few of the myths about IARC that are currently being propagated include ‘IARC finds that everything causes cancer’, ‘IARC does no research, it only has opinions’ and ‘IARC has been found to be corrupted’ – I could go on. The facts are that IARC is under attack because it is objective, effective, and sometimes produces inconvenient findings.”

He said a detailed review 2015 of the agency’s approach on which he was a co-author found “IARC processes are sound, and that recent industry-funded criticisms have been unfair and unconstructive.” He concluded we “need independent scientific bodies such as IARC which can review the scientific evidence objectively, and without conflicts of interest, even if this leads to conclusions that some may find inconvenient.”

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