When the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a statement late 2015 regarding red meats being carcinogenic, even the World Health Organization that works closely with the agency, was caught off-guard.

Today, there are more criticisms being thrown at IARC and the work it does to adequately guide the public and policy-makers regarding cancer-causing materials and foods.

In particular, the methods by which they conduct their investigations is under fire. Both academics and public administrators are in agreement that its methods are flawed and those it has supposedly identified as carcinogenic are questionable.

That they need more research on how to classify carcinogens and that an apparent lack of transparency gives IARC a chance to “jump the gun” on decisions, like the announcement on red meats, critics said.

Their publications have been questioned regarding the validity of their experts in handling and classifying the materials they deem as cancer causing. Detractors say that people who classify materials may or may not be the best judges of validity.

Geoffrey Kabat, cancer epidemiologist of Albert Einstein College of Medicine has openly criticized IARC by saying that the institute gives the public a disservice.

“What the public wants to know is: what are the agents in our surroundings that are likely to have palpable effects on our health? Not theoretical exposures which might, under some far-fetched conditions, possibly have an effect,” Kabat said.

What’s worse is that IARC prefers to classify and release risk factors without adequate descriptions. Like the case of red and processed meats where it tended to mislead consumers.

WHO has stated “the health risks of processed meat are vastly different of those cigarettes and asbestos meat provides a number of essential nutrients and, when consumed in moderation, has a place in a healthy diet.”

IARC’s list of carcinogens baffle the public even more. It puts plutonium, mustard gas and tobacco as obvious candidates of cancer-inducing elements but it also lists wood dust, nylon and Chinese salted fish in that same group. It has even released information that nursing and flying a plane increases cancer risk.

Propositions have been suggested to let the WHO get control on how IARC conducts research and development.

WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl explained that IARC is functionally independent and that “WHO assesses or re-assesses the levels of risk associated with those hazards. Based on the risk assessment, the WHO reaffirms existing or issues new guidance aimed at safeguarding public health.” MIMS