DOA, HHS Ignore Dietary Committee's Food Industry Ties
The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services failed to tell the public about relevant conflicts of interest on the newly impaneled Dietary Guidelines advisory committee, which a year from now will recommend changes to the government’s daily food intake advice. A Center for Science in the Public Interest analysis reveals that nearly half the roster's 13 members have taken funding from the food and pharmaceutical industries. None of those industry ties were disclosed by the government; and, according to Robert Post, director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, none received waivers declaring that their expertise was needed to round out the committee, which the law requires before scientists with conflicts of interest can serve on federal advisory committees. The committee, announced Oct. 14, met for the first time last week.
Members of the committee with relevant conflicts of interest include:
Three other members of the committee have conducted research or received consulting fees from pharmaceutical firms that market weight-control and other drugs that are relevant to dietary advice.
Science Board Blasts BPA Report Despite Conflicts
The Food and Drug Administration's Science Board subcommittee reviewing the agency's bisphenol A report last week blasted the agency for declaring the plasticizer safe, saying the agency used unacceptable criteria for selecting studies to inform its deliberations. The subcommittee report said the agency relied on inadequate data and underestimated BPA exposures for infants and children, who are most vulnerable to its effects. The subcommittee reached its conclusion despite consumer-group fears that financial conflicts of interest would taint the views of its chair, Martin Philbert, who heads a center at the University of Michigan that receives funds from Dow Chemical, which manufactures BPA. An FDA investigation last week cleared Philbert of the conflict of interest allegations, although it stipulated that he should not vote at the Science Board subcommittee’s meeting.
Despite the panel's negative review, the FDA reaffirmed its defense of BPA, claiming government agencies worldwide believe "that current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk." The FDA also asserted Canada is taking steps to restrict the substance only "out of an abundance of caution."
The Science Board subcommittee was not the only voice expressing concern about the health risks associated with BPA. Last week, 36 scientists published a commentary in Environmental Health Perspectives attacking the FDA for declaring BPA safe. "While the U.S. FDA and [European Food Safety Authority] have deemed two industry-funded GLP (good laboratory practices) studies of BPA to be superior to hundreds of studies funded by the US-NIH and NIH counterparts in other countries, the GLP studies on which the agencies based their decisions have serious conceptual and methodological flaws," according to the commentary.
Meanwhile, prior to the committee's statement, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) joined Congressmen John Dingell (D-MI) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) in questioning whether conflicts of interest might influence the FDA's findings on BPA. In a letter to FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, DeLauro noted Dow Chemical's $15 million grant to Philbert's center. "There appears to be a complete undermining of the decision-making process at FDA on the BPA issue and I fear that this case demonstrates that the conflict of interest standards governing scientific advisory panels are inadequate," DeLauro said.
EPA Lowers Standard for Removing Toxics from Water
The Environmental Protection Agency has created a new tool for determining toxics levels in drinking water which effectively raises the bar for emergency cleanup and remediation efforts, Inside EPA reports (subscription required). The new tool, released on an internal EPA site, will be used by regional EPA officials to determine if pollution levels have reached the so-called "Removal Action Levels" (RALs) for dealing with toxic compounds under the Superfund law. Possible responses include removing the contaminants or providing bottled water to people living near the contamination site. The new rule results in an online calculator that, according to Inside EPA, raises the RALs up to 60 percent above the RALs set in 1998. The new tool, unlike the previous calculator, will not be made available to the public.
Odds and Ends
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy's smallest national labs, held an Industry Growth Forum last week sponsored by the electricity industry.... The Washington Post reports the Fish and Wildlife Service will again try to remove the northern Rockies gray wolf from the endangered species list.... The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cites 28 locations around the country where asbestos pollution from a mine in Libby, Montana has spread….
Cheers and Jeers