Federal Judge Deals Blow to Scientific Agency Under Congressional Fire

House Republicans have indicated willingness to defund controversial cancer research institution

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A federal judge issued an injunction on Monday to halt California's plan requiring cancer warning labels on all "Roundup" products, the best-selling weed killer and herbicide worldwide.

In his 20-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Shubb said scientists failed to show a clear connection between glyphosate and cancer. Glyphosate is the key active chemical component in Roundup. Besides being a well-known product at lawn and garden retailers, Roundup is relied upon by large farming operations across the world to increase crop yield.

"The required warning for glyphosate does not appear to be factually accurate and uncontroversial because it conveys the message that glyphosate's carcinogenicity is an undisputed fact, when almost all other regulators have concluded that there is insufficient evidence that it causes cancer," the ruling states.

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While the ruling narrowly concerns Monsanto's product, there are implications for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), one of the scientific research agencies California relies upon to determine which products deserve cancer warnings in the state according to its Proposition 65.

Judge Shubb focused on the fact that only IARC had made a cancer link, while all other research agencies had not.

In a meeting of the House Science Committee in early February, Republicans put IARC's methods and practices under a microscope specifically as they related to their work on glyphosate, and questioned whether the agency should continue to receive federal funding.

"I'm also a little surprised to see that the United States has given $45 million dollars to IARC located in Lyon, 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., Kan.).

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas was more direct, accusing IARC of cherry-picking the data on their glyphosate research.

"The selective use of data and the lack of public disclosure raise questions about why IARC should receive any government funding in the future," he said.

IARC's research and published findings on glyphosate prompted controversy in 2017, when a Reuters report revealed deposition testimony where one of the agency's lead scientists acknowledged that the IARC study had left out some research that contradicted their conclusions.

IARC is a part of the World Health Organization, which is a part of the United Nations. As such, it receives both direct and indirect funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.