GOP Asks New Director of Embattled Science Lab for Committee Testimony

Committee said agency 'was an affront to science' under previous leadership

Research on glyphosate herbicide is at the center of controversy / Getty Images

Republicans on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee asked the new director of an international cancer research lab to appear before the committee next month to answer questions about what the representatives say are flawed and possibly biased research methods lacking in transparency.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) receives U.S. taxpayer funding for their cancer research investigations, collectively known as the Monograph Programme. Some of the agency's findings, which have the power to move markets, have been called into question by individuals within the scientific community, by other federal agencies such as the EPA, and also in legal proceedings.

IARC named Dr. Elisabete Weiderpass to be the new director in late May after Dr. Christopher Wild stepped down.

"Unfortunately, given the information collected and evaluated by the Committee, the way the Monograph Programme operated under Director Christopher Wild was an affront to scientific integrity and bred distrust and confusion in the marketplace and amongst government regulators," the letter from the committee said.

The committee highlighted IARC's research into glyphosate, the key ingredient in the best-selling herbicide Roundup. While Roundup is familiar to many on a retail level as a home and garden weed killer, the herbicide is also used in farming to increase crop yields, mainly in combination with the use of specially bred glyphosate-resistant seeds.

The criticisms outlined in Thursday's letter were a familiar theme, as the committee took aim at the agency's practices in a February hearing at which representatives from IARC were invited to testify, though none accepted. Republicans at that hearing made several allusions to the possibility of removing U.S. dollars from the agency's funding.

Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council was the lone defender of the agency at the February hearing. She said that IARC was being targeted by coordinated attacks from corporations and industry groups.

The biggest flashpoint in the debate came last summer when Reuters published an expose on IARC's glyphosate research that concluded the chemical was probably a carcinogen. The report disclosed previously unknown deposition testimony from one of the researchers on the project who admitted that the group was made aware of unpublished research which contradicted IARC's own findings, but that data and research was not incorporated into the final conclusions.

"IARC told Reuters that its evaluations follow strict scientific criteria and that its carcinogen classification system ‘is recognised and used as a reference all around the world,'" the Reuters report from 2017 said. "[IARC] reiterated that in the interests of transparency it considers only published data."

The glyphosate controversy is just one of several buffeting the France-based science agency. The IARC downgraded their classification that coffee had cancer-causing properties in 2016, but even that revision stoked fresh debate as some said the downgrade didn't go far enough.

IARC's research has also played into recent controversies, especially in some court cases, over whether talcum powder contributed to increased risk of ovarian cancer.

A request for comment to IARC as to whether Weiderpass would accept the invitation was not returned.