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WHO Concealed Carcinogen Documents
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WHO Concealed Carcinogen Documents

The World Health Organization’s cancer agency - which is facing criticism over how it classifies carcinogens - advised academic experts on one of its review panels not to disclose documents they were asked to release under United States freedom of information laws.
In a letter and an email seen by Reuters, officials from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cautioned scientists who worked on a review in 2015 of the weedkiller glyphosate against releasing requested material.
The review, published in March 2015, concluded glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic,” putting IARC at odds with regulators around the world. Critics say they want the documents to find out more about how IARC reached its conclusion.
“IARC is the sole owner of such materials,” IARC told the experts. “IARC requests you and your institute not to release any (such) documents.”
Asked about its actions, the agency told Reuters on Tuesday it was seeking to protect its work from external interference and defending its panels’ freedom to debate evidence openly and critically.
In recent years IARC, a semi-autonomous unit of the WHO based in Lyon, France, has caused controversy over whether such things as coffee, mobile phones, red and processed meat, and chemicals like glyphosate cause cancer.
Its critics, including in industry, say the way IARC evaluates whether substances might be carcinogenic can cause unnecessary health scares. IARC assesses the risk of a substance being carcinogenic without taking account of typical human exposure to it.
Glyphosate is a key ingredient of the herbicide Roundup, sold by Monsanto. According to data published by IARC, glyphosate was registered in over 130 countries as of 2010 and is one of the most heavily used weedkillers in the world.
Pressure has been growing on the experts who worked on IARC’s glyphosate review in part because other regulators, including in the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, say the weedkiller is unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans.
The conflicting scientific assessments have delayed a decision on whether glyphosate should be relicensed for sale in Europe.
IARC defends its methods as scientifically sound and says its monographs - the name it gives to its classifications of carcinogens - are “widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and . . . freedom from conflicts of interest.” IARC’s advice to experts not to release documents came in April after IARC said it learned that members of the scientific panel that reviewed glyphosate in 2015 had been issued with legal requests for information relating to their work.

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