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February 2, 2009

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 02/02/2009

Industry Lards Trans Fat Task Force

Health advocates are urging Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to ignore a report from a food-industry-dominated task force that opposed phasing out artery-clogging trans fat from the food supply. The 37-member Trans Fat Task Force was chaired by Penn State professor Peter Bordi, who directs the university's Center for Food Innovation, a "cooperative research venture between food industry and academia." The center's funders include Dairy Queen, Hershey Foods, Cargill, Nestle, the National Dairy Council and Exxon Mobil. About one-third of the task force membership was affiliated with corporations or industry trade groups, but advocates who had pushed for a Philadelphia phase-out of trans fat were not on the committee.

In a recent study in the Journal of Food Service, Bordi and colleagues said that "industry might consider" phasing out trans fat "to lower heart disease in the American population." But the task force recommended that the state "avoid creating any legislation which prohibits/severely limits the use of artificially produced trans fats in Pennsylvania, as businesses are already working at eliminating them from the food supply."

"The report of this task force might have been credible were it written ten years ago, when the science surrounding trans fat was less certain, and before it was clear how easy it would be for restaurants and food processors to switch to healthier oils," said Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But it ignores the example of New York City, whose prohibition on using partially hydrogenated oils has proven so successful." Philadelphia, too, is already phasing out the ingredient, and California, Boston, King County (Seattle) and other jurisdictions have passed laws to phase out trans fat from restaurants.

Medicare Compendium Using Pay-to-Play Scheme

The oldest drug compendium that physicians use to bill Medicare for unapproved uses of anti-cancer drugs has adopted a pay-to-play scheme that allows drug companies to pay $50,000 to get an off-label use of a drug reviewed for possible listing, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported last week. The American Hospital Formulary Service Drug Information (AHFS-DI), which is published by the non-profit American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, teamed up with another non-profit, the Foundation for Evidence-Based Medicine (FEBM), to collect the fees as a way of expediting the listing process.

FEBM, according to the Journal, is housed in the same suburban Maryland offices as the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) a non-profit that is partially funded by Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, which all make drugs used to combat cancer. FEBM and ACCC are also headed by the same person, while the president of FEBM's board of directors is a Washington lobbyist with numerous drug industry clients. The $50,000 pay-to-play scheme was criticized in a draft report written by Duke University researchers for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The scheme "could place the editors at AHFS in a difficult position" where they "could feel pressured to approve the applicant's request for inclusion in the compendium," the report said.

Interior Ignores Science; Salazar Vows Reform

Documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveal that Interior Department officials ignored science when they decided on a Grand Canyon water flow regime that maximizes power generation. Despite spending $100 million on scientific studies that showed the canyon's ecosystem requires periodic high water flows to rebuild its beaches and protect fish habitats, the department's most recent Environmental Assessment rejected that strategy. The steady flow called for by the Environmental Assessment will leave more water behind Glen Canyon Dam, which allows more power generation and lower costs for utilities. Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin blasted the plan because it "will significantly impair Grand Canyon resources ... The mistreatment and disregard of science, the lack of public involvement ... are in conflict with standard [Park Service] management practices," he wrote.

The Grand Canyon is just one of the national parks and monuments that the Los Angeles Times reports will face a long battle to undo Bush Administration policies that favor commercial use. Incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to restore conservation priorities to the nation's 630 million acres of public land, and says he will revisit many of the last-minute industry-friendly regulations put in place by the Bush Administration. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Salazar said that he would "ensure that the Interior Department's decisions are based on sound science and the public interest, and not on the special interests." Meanwhile, conservation groups note that Salazar has voted for offshore oil drilling along Florida's coast and greater subsidies for ranchers who use public lands, and opposed endangered species listings as attorney general of Colorado. The Northwest Mining Association and BP America have voiced support for Salazar.

Daschle Speeches to Health Care Firms Scrutinized

The Washington Post and New York Times over the weekend reported that Health and Human Service Secretary-designee Tom Daschle received significant income by giving speeches to major health-related firms and trade groups over the past year. The reports also noted that during his tenure at Alston & Bird, a Washington law and lobbying firm, Daschle lobbied on behalf of at least one major insurance firm. The speaking engagements, which paid anywhere from $12,000 to $30,000 each, occurred at major meetings of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which represents the health insurance industry; the Health Industry Distributors Assn. (HIDA), which represents distributors of durable equipment; and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

The Post also reported that HIDA recently wrote to Dachle "to express concerns about proposed Medicare changes and reminded him of the $14,000 speech he delivered at its conference last year." Daschle notified the HHS ethics office on Jan. 16 that he will not participate for the next year on "particular matters" in which "a former client of mine is a party or represents a party." He did not list any specific relationship that would pose a conflict of interest, according to the report.

Odds and Ends

Stewart Parnell, president of Peanut Corp. of America, which has been linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak, is a member of the Agriculture Department's all-industry advisory board that sets quality standards for peanuts, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Peanut butter made at the Lynchburg, Va.-based firm has been linked to at least eight deaths and sickened more than 500 people in 43 states. ... The Center for Progressive Reform released a highly critical report on Harvard professor Cass Sunstein, President Obama's pick to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews most federal regulations for the White House. ... The National Institutes of Health is distributing a kids coloring book on its website designed to view animal research in a positive light. The coloring book was produced by the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research, whose members include GlaxoSmithKline, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science Foundation and other institutions with a financial stake in animal research. ... The Food and Drug Administration's oversight of medical products and the Environmental Protection Agency's assessment and regulation of toxic products have been added to the Government Accountability Office's most recent list of government programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer to Reed Abelson and Andrew Pollack of the New York Times and David Armstrong of the Wall Street Journal for articles last week on conflicts of interest among organizations that issue drug compendia, which are used by physicians to justify reimbursement by Medicare for the off-label use of anti-cancer drugs (see story above).

  • Jeer to Stephanie Nano for failing to disclose in an article published last week in the Boston Globe that Hassan Ibrahim, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, serves on an advisory board for Roche, which manufactures diagnostic devices that are used to detect kidney failure. Nano's article highlights an article that Ibraham published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine on the effectiveness of kidney transplants, where Ibrahim disclosed that tie.