Friday, January 15, 2016

PULL BACK THE CURTAIN ON EU EFSA's SECRET GLYPHOSATE SAFTEY "EXPERTS"

EU review of weedkiller glyphosate adds secrecy to controversy


More than 80% of the national experts involved in the EU assessment of glyphosate refused to disclosed their names to the public and almost 95% did not agree to have their interests published
The secretive approach to glyphosate assessment of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the German risk assessment institute BfR (which both concluded glyphosate was not carcinogenic) contrasts strongly with that of the open approach of the WHO's International Agency for Research Against Cancer (which concluded glyphosate is probably carcinogenic).

We’ve often said that pesticide approvals would not survive a transparent scientific research and assessment process. The glyphosate saga appears to be a good example.

EU review of weedkiller glyphosate adds secrecy to controversy

Corporate Europe Observatory, January 14 2016
http://gmwatch.us6.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=29cbc7e6c21e0a8fd2a82aeb8&id=d65190665d&e=872a621ccb

More than 80 per cent of the national experts involved in the EU's official assessment of glyphosate refused to have their names disclosed to the public. Their review concluded, in contrast to the WHO's International Agency for Research Against Cancer, that the most used herbicide in the world was “unlikely” to cause cancer to humans. Almost 95 per cent did not accept to have their interests published. National food safety organisations involved are listed, with the number of experts representing them. A consequence is that, for the moment, the only public authors of this EU's review are governmental agencies, not individual scientists. The European Commission and Member States need to decide whether or not to re-authorise glyphosate on the EU market before June 2016.

A conflict has erupted between, on the one hand, the International Agency for Research against Cancer (IARC) and, on the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Germany's Federal Risk Assessment Institute (BfR) over their opposite assessments of the risks of glyphosate. Soon after EFSA and BfR published their conclusion in November 2015, several members of the IARC working group and dozens of scientists sending a very critical open letter to the European Commission to complain about the way the two agencies had treated their work.

The two agencies replied early January 2016, insisting that IARC's work was only a “first screening” and that their work was “a more comprehensive hazard assessment”. And so did the European Commissioner for Public Health, V. Andriukaitis, acknowledging that “diverging scientific opinions on such a widely used product is indeed disconcerting” and urging the two camps to work together to “resolve or at least clarify the contentious scientific issues”. A meeting seems scheduled between EFSA and IARC in February 2016 to discuss further.

Finding out who is right and who isn't in this conflict is difficult for non-toxicologists but the differences in the two processes, however, are interesting. Our analysis showed that IARC only used publicly available data, with meetings accessible to observers (including industry) and a panel filled with top specialists while excluding all conflicts of interest. On the other hand, BfR and EFSA also relied on industry-sponsored studies to which they attributed much importance in explaining their difference with IARC, but that only them and industry could see[1]… The work was carried out by officials from their own respective pesticides units, as well as from several national agencies, and most of the work was done in teleconferences without external witnesses.

Were these officials independent from the pesticides industry and political pressures from their governments? EFSA's independence policy is far from perfect but at least bans obvious conflicts of interest with industry for its staff during their employment, and the agency is meant to be independent from both Member States and the European Commission - whether it actually is independent from the Commission would be a long story. Evaluating the independence of the national experts involved in the work is even more difficult.

An access to documents request at EFSA by CEO delivered the following results: among the 73 national experts who participated in EFSA's peer review on glyphosate, only 14 agreed for their names to be disclosed as their country's representative in the process. At least, EFSA detailed the name of the national organisations these experts belonged to. See the table provided by EFSA, and our own with links to DOIs. Among the 14 who accepted the publication of their name, only five filled a declaration of interest (DOI) and only four accepted that their DOI is published. That is, 5.5% of the experts involved in the review.

The most striking outcome of this access to documents request was perhaps that not a single expert from the rapporteur state, Germany, was named. This is all the more problematic given that BfR has a policy allowing industry employees on its panels (its current pesticides panel for instance includes employees of chemical giants Bayer and BASF). BfR refused to comment on the identity of the five officials contributing to EFSA's peer review (an anonymous source had sent five names to CEO, all BfR officials), stating that “BfR assessments in general are made by BfR staff” and that “external experts from the BfR Committees merely advise BfR [...] and were not involved at any stage in the re-assessment of the active substance glyphosate”.

Why such a secrecy? No reason was provided. As far as other countries were concerned, EFSA said that since these individuals were not EFSA staff, the agency could not impose to them to fill a DOI. EFSA would not disclose the name of its own staff involved, claiming institutional authorship and the need to protect its employees against undue influence. That last argument can have some merit during the process (less so afterwards), but secrecy precisely allows undue influence to remain unnoticed...

The European Commission and the Member State (whose representatives at the Standing Committee are likely to resemble some of our unknown experts) need to decide whether or not to re-authorise glyphosate on the EU market before June 2016.

Notes

1. Summaries have now been published by EFSA. CEO made an access to documents request for the complete studies which is ongoing.
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Sunday, January 10, 2016

ANIMAL DRUGS, GMO LABELS, FOOD WASTE ACTIONS

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BLOG POST OF THE WEEK

ENOUGH Already

ENOUGH Already
We’ve all grown accustomed to the steady parade of television ads—$3 billion year worth, by some estimates—urging us to “ask our doctors” about the latest miracle drug. Pharmaceutical ads have been commonplace since the 1990s, after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)cleared the way for prescription drug companies to aggressively market their wares directly to consumers.

Wisdom and ethics aside, it’s easy to see why Big Pharma would push pills to humans, to treat human ailments. It’s big money.

But a drug company that makes animal drugs, purchased not by consumers but by factory farms, advertising direct to consumers who will never actually purchase those drugs? How does that make sense?

If you’re Elanco, the $2.3-billion animal drug division of Eli Lilly, you make it seem sensible by spinning the message. In Elanco’s case, the message is this: Without our animal drugs, the world will starve.

It’s a message that paints the drug maker as an altruistic savior, instead of the profit-motivated animal abuser and public health threat it actually is.

Read the blog post

ACTION ALERT

Invitation Only

Invitation Only
As the calendar flips over to 2016, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and the rest of the GMO junk food industry are growing ever more desperate to prevent Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120) from taking effect onJuly 1, 2016.
Their next move? A closed-door, invitation only meeting with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and GMO labeling advocates in the hope of striking a compromise, one that would no doubt preempt Vermont’s law.
Should the GMO labeling movement, which has fought so long and so hard to require food manufacturers to disclose this basic information about their products, settle for anything less than a mandatory labeling law like Vermont’s?
We don’t think so. Vermont’s GMO labeling law must be allowed to take effect July 1, 2016, as scheduled. Then we can talk about potential next steps, including federal regulations or legislation.
We don’t yet know the date of this upcoming meeting, other than that Vilsack has publicly said it would happen in January. OCA hasn't received an invitation.
But we do know this: Vilsack needs to hear from you, from all of us, now!
URGENT! TAKE ACTION: Tell USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack to back off and let Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law take effect!
Text "Back off" to 97779 to join OCA's mobile network and take action!

ACTION ALERT

Waste Not

Waste Not
People go to bed hungry every night in nearly 7 million households in the U.S., according to a report published last month by the National Commission on Hunger.

And yet, Americans throw away 40 percent of our food—the equivalent of $165 billion each year—according to the National Resources Defense Council.
It doesn’t make sense. That’s why U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, (D-Maine) has introduced H.R. 4184, the Food Recovery Act—a bill to address food waste.
H.R. 4148 proposes comprehensive legislation to address food waste in four areas: at the consumer level; at the retail (grocery stores and restaurants) level; at the institutional (schools, hospitals and other institutions); and on the farm.
For consumers, that means better information about expiration dates. For the hungry, it means redistributing perfectly good food to those who need it. For farmers, it means tax incentives to waste less. For the environment, it means less planet-warming methane spewed into the atmosphere.
Heck, this bill could even help protect endangered species. What’s not to love?
TAKE ACTION! Tell Congress to support H.R. 4184 the Food Recovery Act!