Tuesday, February 07, 2006

WHO to ILSI: not so close, please

International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Sounds impressive. And in fact I know a number of good scientists who have worked with them and I have also appeared on a panel at one of their meetings, although admittedly I was the token nay-sayer.

Still, all of us in the business know that ILSI is an industry organization. Sixty percent of its funds come directly from industry and an unknown proportion of the rest indirectly. ILSI has consistently and persistently hewed to the industry line on seemingly arcane scientific matters that turn out to be of great importance to their patrons. One example is their position that some chemically produced liver tumors in animal tests are not relevant to human risk assessment (in particular, cancers produced by PFOAs are not relevant).

In December, 18 environmental and labor groups asked WHO to reconsider the ties it established 15 years ago that established ILSI as a non-Governmental Organization (NGO) a bit more equal than others in helping the agency set international standards on microbiological and chemical contamination of water and food. The basis for the complaint was that ILSI was not "free from concerns which are primarily of a commercial or profit-making nature" as WHO guidelines require.

In January WHO agreed.
The Washington-based institute can no longer take part in WHO activities setting microbiological or chemical standards for food and water, the U.N. health agency's executive board decided Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.


"The WHO and other public health agencies risk their scientific credibility and may be compromising public health by partnering with ILSI," NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council] senior scientist Jennifer Sass wrote WHO on behalf of the advocacy groups and unions.

Sass said the institute "has a demonstrated history of putting the interests of its exclusively corporate membership ahead of science and health concerns, and that ILSI's special status with the WHO provides a back door to influence WHO activities." (AP via San Francisco Chronicle)
ILSI is unhappy:
"We are not a back door for industry," Harris, a biochemist and former Agriculture deputy assistant secretary in the Reagan administration, said in an interview. "We try to do everything transparently. Nothing we do is hidden. It all gets published."


"Our goal is improving public health, and we believe that that in itself benefits our membership. We're not trying to sell anything," Harris said.

The institute's member companies include Bayer AG, Coca-Cola, Dow Agrosciences/Dow Chemical, DuPont, ExxonMobil, General Mills, Hershey Foods, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, Merck & Co., Monsanto, Nestle, Novartis, PepsiCo, Pfizer and Proctor & Gamble.
'Nuff said.