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May 12, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 05/12/2008

Nutritionists with Biz Ties Crowd NAS School Foods Panel

At least 8 of 14 prospective members of the National Academies of Science committee reviewing the nation’s school cafeteria standards have received recent research support from the food industry or currently receive honoraria for sitting on the board of an industry-funded non-profit, an investigation by Integrity in Science Watch showed. Just one of those affiliations was disclosed in the NAS announcement that invites the public to comment on the proposed nominations.

Recent research support for five of the proposed panelists came from a variety of industry-affiliated organizations, including the National Dairy Council, International Life Sciences Institute, National Pork Foundation, and the USA Rice Federation. Members have also worked with specific companies such as General Mills and Gerber. The committee’s proposed chairman, Virginia Stallings of the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, serves as president of the Dannon Institute, a non-profit housed within the Dannon Co.’s White Plains, N.Y. headquarters and fully funded by the company. Stallings received $15,000 from the Dannon Institute in 2006, according to its latest publicly available Internal Revenue Service filing. The Institute’s charitable activities include support for a Johns Hopkins University-based program to combat obesity in early childhood.

The NAS committee is funded by the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service. It will set standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. NAS policy requires current conflicts of interest be disclosed to the public. The public has nine days to comment.

EPA Official Ousted for Ordering Dow Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Chicago regional administrator lost her job after she ordered Dow Chemical to clean up three sites heavily contaminated with dioxin, the Chicago Tribune reported. Mary Gade, who previously ran the Illinois EPA, was told to quit or be fired by top EPA officials after she ordered testing of soils near Dow’s Michigan plant. Some of the sites were found to have dioxin levels nearly six times higher than the federal cleanup standard.

The company admits it dumped highly toxic chemicals in the area, but has resisted state and local efforts to compel a cleanup. Gade ended negotiations with Dow Chemical in January, saying that the company refused to take the actions necessary to protect public health and the environment. Letters obtained by the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act show that Dow then sought help from officials in Washington. Last week Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington demanded the EPA turn over records pertaining to Gade’s resignation and the EPA’s knowledge about dioxin contamination around the Dow plant. Gade, a Republican and former corporate attorney, had won praise from EPA officials for taking strong action against polluters several times since her appointment by President Bush in September 2006.

Congress Told That EPA May Not Set Perchlorate Limits

An Environmental Protection Agency official told a Senate committee last week that there was “a distinct possibility” that the agency would not set drinking water limits on perchlorate, a toxic ingredient in solid rocket fuel, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Committee on Environment and Public Works also heard that the agency has failed to produce a drinking water assessment and standard for the carcinogen TCE, which had been promised in 2001. Both contaminants are produced by the Defense Department or its contractors. A Government Accountability Office report blamed delaying tactics by the White House Office of Management and Budget and the DoD. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the committee, has proposed legislation requiring testing and stronger standards for both chemicals.

Climate Skeptic Funds Aussie University Grants

A prominent climate skeptic and a conservative think tank have teamed up to fund $350,000 in environmental research at Australia’s University of Queensland, The Australian reported. Perth-based physician Bryant Macfie, citing a lack of evidence to support global warming, funneled his contribution through the Institute of Public Affairs to support environmental Ph.D. candidates at the university. University of Queensland climate change expert Clive McAlpine expressed fears that climate change skeptics would control use of the money. “It is important that the science is objective and that students are not subjected to restraints from donors,” he said. Deputy vice-chancellor David Siddle said the university selected the students and appointed their supervisors. “As long as we are able to fiercely maintain our independence, as long as we provide supervision to the students that is objective and skilled, I don't see a problem.”

Odds and Ends

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed a scientist who once worked for Dow Chemical to a slot on a state panel tracking pesticide exposures. Charles Timchalk replaces Steven Gilbert, who served two terms and frequently volunteers for environmental groups. . . . Another review of the Fish and Wildlife Services’ spotted owl recovery plan, this time by Oregon’s Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, concludes the FWS plan doesn’t put enough emphasis on protecting the owl’s habitat, Science reported May 2. The FWS will release its final version by the end of this month . . . . The Equator Network, a new initiative focusing on bettering scientific publications by encouraging transparency and accuracy in health research, will be hosting a meeting in London this June to launch the organization.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Jeer to FDA Webview (subscription required) for its short item quoting former Food and Drug Administration official Peter Pitts’ support for direct-to-consumer drug advertising without noting Pitts’ current position as a vice president at Manning Selvage & Lee, a public relations firm with numerous pharmaceutical industry clients. The story also mentioned the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, which Pitts helped found, without noting that the non-profit receives most of its funding from the drug industry.