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17 January 2014

Under the Influence: Le Monde reveals top scientist’s industry links

New York University professor Paolo Boffetta, a top name in epidemiology and former International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) researcher, has in recent years provided a growing number of consultancy services to industry, claims French broadsheet Le Monde.

Commissioned by US industry organization the American Chemistry Council, Dr. Boffetta published articles in scientific journals in 2011 denying or understating the carcinogenicity to humans of TCDD (one of the most toxic dioxins), formaldehyde (a chemical found in many building materials), styrene (a compound used in making some plastics) and atrazine (a herbicide banned in Europe).

In an article part-paid for by Pepsi subsidiary Frito-Lay published the same year, he downplayed the risks of acrylamide, a by-product of high-temperature cooking classified as a carcinogen by the IARC. The following year, he put his name to another article, funded by Materion Brush, a multinational specializing in the development of beryllium-based materials for high-tech industry, claiming that "the available evidence does not support a conclusion that a causal association has been established between occupational exposure to beryllium and the risk of cancer".

In June 2012, he wrote an article on diesel engine fume emissions which concluded that "the weight of evidence is considered inadequate to confirm the diesel-lung cancer hypothesis". The epidemiologist’s declaration of interest discloses that he worked on this article as "a consultant to the Mining Awareness Resource Group [MARG]". MARG is a coalition of mining giants.

The French daily also reveals Mr Boffetta to be a founding shareholder of the International Prevention Research Institute (IPRI), a consultancy firm based in Lyon - where the IARC is also headquartered - which sells its services to industry to produce expert reports or scientific articles on health risks.

Read more: Épidémiologie: des liaisons dangereuses in Le Monde Science and Technology supplement, 16 December 2013 (in French)

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