An international cancer research center took withering criticism from Republicans on Tuesday as the House Science, Space and Technology Committee looked into that center's research on glyphosate, a best-selling agricultural herbicide used to increase crop yield.
The International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) had designated the chemical as "probably carcinogenic," but the agency's methods and findings have been controversial.
The stakes over these findings are huge, as glyphosate is the main active ingredient in Monsanto's product RoundUp, used widely in homes and by agribusiness. Monsanto also has a line of "RoundUp ready" crop seeds that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the chemical.
Because of the IARC finding, all RoundUp products have to be sold with a hazard warning in California.
"IARC's conclusion about glyphosate relied only on data that was favorable to its conclusion and ignored contradictory data," said Committee chairman Lamar Smith, referring to a June report by Reuters.
Deposition testimony revealed one of the leaders in IARC's glyphosate study admitted to leaving out data that would have changed IARC's finding of "probably carcinogenic," according to Reuters.
"I'm also a little surprised to see that the United States has given $45 million dollars to IARC located in Lyons, France—a beautiful place from all of the paintings I've seen of that area, but I'm not sure why we're spending American dollars there," said Rep. Roger Marshall (R., Kansas).
At the beginnings of his remarks, Rep. Marshall said he had a long-standing joke with his pastor about whether coffee causes cancer, and then proceeded to say he only recently discovered that IARC had given coffee the "probably carcinogenic" designation, which is causing yet another labeling controversy in California.
The witness invited by the Democrats to testify on behalf of IARC's work, Dr. Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council, spent most of her time trying to refute or rebut the testimony of other witnesses, including the EPA's own science advisor for the Office of Pesticide Programs.
"IARC Director Christopher Wild stated that his Agency has experienced unprecedented, coordinated efforts to undermine the [glyphosate] evaluation, the program and the organization," Sass said in opening remarks.
Sass said those efforts were designed by Monsanto to "defend itself against litigation claims by thousands of farmers that were once Monsanto Co. customers and are now cancer patients; and, prevent labeling of glyphosate-containing products as a carcinogen in the State of California."
A lawsuit is underway against the agribusiness giant, with over 800 people signed on to the class action.
Republican members on the panel noted that IARC officials were invited to testify but declined.
Sass and others alleged that business concerns such as Monsanto have ginned up a public relations campaign, claiming that the hearing was merely an extension of that.
"What I’ve touched upon here is only a small part of the well documented public relations campaign to soften up public opinion about the agrichemical industry and create a venue to pressure agencies to block regulations, and try to discredit and silence public health and scientific institutes that may show some harm from their profitable products," Sass.
The battle over IARC comes against a backdrop of several years of growing partisan acrimony over science, as the parties have frequently accused each other of being "anti-science."