Experts urge to avoid “manufactured health scares”
In a commentary titled “Classification schemes for carcinogenicity based on hazard-identification have become outmoded and serve neither science nor society”, published in the official journal of the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 10 experts in a variety of disciplines argue that the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) and United Nations Global Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling (GHS) use outmoded hazard-based schemes to evaluate cancer risks to the public.
The authors note that the application of these approaches and classification schemes can lead to unfounded public concerns and reactionary public policies, for example, placing consuming red meat in the same category as exposure to mustard gas.
“This hazard-identification only process places chemicals with widely differing potencies and very different modes of action into the same category,” Alan Boobis, professor in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College in London, said in a news release. “The consequences are unnecessary health scares and unnecessary diversion of public funds.”
The commentary recommends updating evaluation approaches by international governmental organizations to use internationally accepted methodologies that are already used by government regulatory bodies for cancer risk assessment. Among those approaches are those of the World Health Organization’s International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS).
Last fall, IARC issues a ruling that placed processed meat in the category of “carcinogen” and red meat in the category of “probable carcinogen.” But the public and news media slammed the credibility of IARC, and following a profusion of headlines such as “Meat is the new tobacco,” IARC’s parent agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), issued a statement clarifying the findings.
In the journal article, the authors conclude that hazard-only based research plays a role in risk assessment but that it is “inadequate” to guide appropriate risk management decisions. The authors urge the adoption of modern strategies that combine hazard and risk characterization to avoid “manufactured health scares.”
“An international initiative to agree upon a standardized, internationally acceptable methodology for carcinogen assessment is needed now”, write the experts. The approach taken should incorporate principles and concepts of existing international consensus-based frameworks including the WHO IPCS mode of action framework.
This work describes the origins of classification schemes based on hazard-identification, acknowledges that they were once useful, explains why they no longer serve a useful role and illustrates how science-based approaches in a risk based decision framework are more suited to protecting human health in the 21st 120 century.