Since Donald Trump’s election, international bureaucracies that receive U.S. tax dollars have been on notice that our unchecked government largess to them is about to end. The World Health Organization is one example of a bloated, inefficient agency that is ripe for reform.
As Jeff wrote in June, “WHO is plagued by persistent wasteful spending, utter disregard for transparency, pervasive incompetence, and failure to adhere to even basic democratic standards.” The United States has failed to hold the WHO accountable for the nearly $2 billion in U.S. funding WHO receives each year.
WHO’s new director-general is Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian doctor who served as a top official in that country’s ruling Marxist government. In October, Ghebreyesus laughably appointed now-deposed Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a “good will ambassador.” (He later rescinded the appointment amid widespread condemnation by member states and donors.) According to an Associated Press investigation earlier this year, WHO spends as much on travel expenses each year as it does on programs to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
Congress has recently begun asking oversight questions about potential misconduct at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO affiliate based in Lyon, France. But IARC has been snubbing its nose at requests for information. Now, the committee doing the investigation, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is threatening to cut off federal funding until it gets answers. House leadership must recognize that this move comes not a moment too soon, and it must be prepared to back up the threat if necessary.
Cancer, Cancer Everywhere
IARC convenes a working group each year to evaluate the cancer-causing potential of chemicals, food, personal habits, and environmental factors. Out of the more than 1,000 hazards IARC has analyzed over the past 50 years, only one has been deemed non-carcinogenic.
IARCs alarmist reports occasionally smack of propaganda intended to advance a wider political agenda. As we wrote in November 2015, the agency’s flawed study that said bacon and red meat might cause cancer was likely tied to the United Nations’ climate change goal to slow global meat consumption because farm animals purportedly contribute to global warming. Others panned IARC for doing a poor job of communicating risk by failing to explain the difference between absolute and relative risk.
While risk communication should be a core competency of IARC, they are now in hot water for something that suggests a more sinister agenda. At issue is a 2015 study that claimed glyphosate, a commonly used weedkiller known as Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen.
Glyphosate has become the latest target of the environmental left because it was created by its nemesis, the St. Louis-based Monsanto, and is used on genetically engineered crops, which green activists oppose. Just as the global movement against genetically engineered crops—as well as a bill in Congress to mandate the labeling of GMO foods—was making progress, this report conveniently gave a scientific imprimatur and health warning to back up those efforts.
IARCs glyphosate report has been widely criticized by scientists and farmers around the world since nearly all the research, both academic and industry, has concluded that glyphosate poses little harm to human health. Subsequent studies, including two conducted by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, also found no link between glyphosate and cancer. Since the report was issued, credible accusations about IARCs use of poor-quality data made sense of IARC’s strange conclusion.
But now it has come to light that someone omitted favorable findings from the draft before the report was finalized. It seems that IARC has its own Peter Stzrok problem. Like FBI investigator Stzrok, the agent who edited a crucial part of former FBI director Jim Comey’s statement about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server, reports are now emerging that key IARC officials have egregious conflicts-of-interest.
Major Conflicts of Interest Revealed
In an effort to find out who was behind the scientific meddling, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has been investigating how the report was handled and recently asked IARC to provide a list of potential witnesses to testify at a congressional hearing next year. On November 1, Chairman Lamar Smith sent a letter to IARCs executive director, expressing concern over “troubling evidence of data deletion, manipulation, and potential conflicts of interest” with the glyphosate report, and asked the director to furnish a list of names of “IARC-affiliated individuals who would serve as potential witnesses for this hearing.”
Smith is particularly curious about the role of Christopher Portier, a part-time employee with the Environmental Defense Fund, who recommended that IARC evaluate glyphosate although he has no background in chemical research. Portier also served as an “invited specialist” to the IARC group evaluating glyphosate. But in court depositions made public in September, Portier admitted he was hired by a law firm suing on behalf of glyphosate “victims” the same month the glyphosate-causes-cancer report was issued. As Julie wrote here:
Portier has been a hired gun, giving expert testimony on behalf of cancer-stricken farm workers and their family members who believe glyphosate caused the disease. It has been a profitable gig. Over the past two years, Portier has banked about $160,000 for his time and has another $30,000 in billable hours now outstanding. (He is earning $450 per hour for his “expertise.”) During that time, as he pressured EU and U.S. agencies not to publish favorable findings about glyphosate, Portier failed to disclose his conflict of interest.
(Portier did not respond to an email seeking updated compensation figures.)
IARC is refusing to cooperate. Not only did the agency snub a congressional request for potential witnesses, it has advised American scientists who participated in the working group (including academics at public universities) not to respond to press inquiries: a pretty bold rebuke from an agency that has received $48 million in U.S. tax dollars.
Smith is not taking no for an answer. Last week, he sent a follow-up letter to IARC, warning the agency about disregarding his request, and threatening that “if IARC does not provide a full response to the request for potential witnesses, the Committee will consider whether the values of scientific integrity and transparency are reflected [at IARC] and if future expenditures of federal taxpayer dollars to this end need to continue.”
It comes down to this: The WHO and IARC have long behaved as if they are above oversight, let alone reproach. Now, as the glyphosate report scandal comes to a head, congressional leadership must stand with the committee and state that global public health is too important to cede to scandal-ridden ideologues.
This case illustrates again why the WHO and IARC must be put on a regimen of tough love in the form of responsible stewardship. Given their brazen dismissals of any obligation to be transparent, Congress should immediately cut funding to the WHO and IARC to ensure that beneficiaries of our generosity use taxpayer dollars only for the legitimate purposes for which they were allocated.