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April 9, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 04/09/2007

Health Sciences Agency Limits Ties with Conflicted Contractor

The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences has temporarily halted its eight-year partnership with Sciences International (SI) because of the consulting group's ties to chemical companies whose products were being assessed for health hazards by the agency, the Los Angeles Times reported. The paper previously disclosed that SI had drafted the NIEHS report on Bisphenol A (BPA) despite having ties to BASF and Dow Chemical, which manufacture the chemical. Environmentalists and consumer groups say the SI-written report downplays the risk of BPA.

Meanwhile, NIEHS announced last week that it will reconvene an expert panel in late May to continue assessing BPA’s effects on human reproduction. BPA is found in hard plastic food storage containers, such as baby bottles. Studies have shown that BPA mimics estrogen. It has been linked to reduced fertility and prostate and breast cancer in animals. The SI staffer who had been tapped to serve on the panel has been asked to step aside.

Bush Recess Appointments Draw Fire

President Bush used the short Easter holiday recess to appoint anti-regulation firebrand Susan Dudley to run the powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The post gives Dudley, who previously toiled at the conservative Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the power to change or block regulations proposed by all government agencies. The White House has also nominated William Wehrum, to run the EPA air office, and Alex Beehler, who could become the next Environmental Protection Agency inspector general. Wehrum was a partner at Latham & Watkins, which represents utility companies affected by new emissions rules, and Beehler previously worked for Koch Industries, a private oil and chemical firm. Both nominations were rejected by the Senate last year. The interim appointees are allowed to remain in office through the end of the Bush presidency.

“Independent” Pet Food Task Force Includes Pet Food Co. Scientists

Proctor & Gamble has launched a massive advertising blitz to counter consumer fears about the rising death toll from poisoned pet food. The firm took out 59 full-page ads in daily newspapers, with most citing reassurances from an independent task force. What P&G didn’t mention in the ads for Iams and Eukanuba products was that most of the task force members have financial ties to the P&G subsidiaries, according to Advertising Age. “Of the seven veterinarians on the panel, three have appeared as endorsers in ads for Iams, another is affiliated with Veterinary Pet Insurance (a company with which Iams has a promotional partnership), another was a speaker at an Iams-sponsored symposium in February, another is a former Iams employee, and the last is a past recipient of a five-year research grant from Iams,” according to Advertising Age.

Odds and Ends

A federal court judge has ruled that the Bush administration acted illegally when it suppressed opposition by government scientists to easing logging restrictions on federal forest lands in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. . . The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it will implement a new public communications policy that “clearly reaffirms the department’s commitment to open and transparent public dissemination of scientific research.” The agency has been under fire for censoring its own scientists.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Jeer: To New Yorker writer Jerome Groopman. In his review of bipolar disorder in children (“What’s Normal?” April 9), he failed to report the financial ties of many of the psychiatrists that he quoted. They included Barbara Geller of Washington University, a paid speaker for Solvay Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures lithium; and Joseph Biederman of Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, whose corporate ties include serving on the advisory boards and speaker bureaus of Cephalon, Eli Lilly, Shire, Novartis and McNeil, all of which sell drugs aimed at people with bipolar disorder.
  • Cheer: To the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which gave voice to five previous directors of the hometown Centers for Disease Control. Speaking at a forum sponsored by the George Washington University’s Public Health School, the five blasted the current administration for putting politics over science by citing the 2004 World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS symposium where then HHS-secretary Tommy Thompson had to approve all government participants.
  • Cheer: To the Toronto Globe and Mail's environmental reporter, Martin Mittelstaedt. His comprehensive overview of the issues behind the Bisphenol A controversy included the role that industry-funded science has played in the debate.