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November 3, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 11/03/2008

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:

  • Linda van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who coauthored a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that was partially funded by General Mills.

  • Miriam Nelson, director of the Tufts University John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, who disclosed 15 months ago that she took over $10,000 from Mission Pharmacal, the maker of the calcium supplement Citracal (which is sold by Bayer Pharmaceuticals), and over $10,000 from Lluminari Inc., a producer of health-related multi-media content for General Mills, PepsiCo, StoneyField Farm, Newman's Own, and other companies; and

  • Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University, whose faculty biography discloses he receives funding for his obesity and diabetes research from Sanofi-Synthelabo and GlaxoSmithKline.

    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

  • Cheer to Greg Burns of the Chicago Tribune for disclosing in an article on medical implants that surgeons David Hungerford and Donald Reilly consulted for Stryker, and Richard Berger and John Maltry consulted for Zimmer Holdings. Zimmer Holdings, according to the article, paid out more than $800 million to 6,500 doctors, hospitals and medical associations between 2002 and 2006. In 2007, the article adds, 48 doctor-consultants received $1 million or more apiece.

  • Jeer to Camille Sweeney at the New York Times for failing to disclose in an article on dermatitis that Eric Simpson, an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University, coauthored in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology a study on dermatitis that was funded by the Dermatology Foundation, which lists Galderma Laboratories, the manufacturer of the moisturizing cream Cetaphil, as a $1 million contributor. Simpson claims in the article that the cream is "worthy of further study."