Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Government Panels Skewed Towards Industry

The nonprofit health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released an investigative report this week showing that a number of government science panels are skewed towards industry.

Advisory committees that develop policy recommendations are supposed to be made up of a range of individuals to spread out conflicts of interest. Advisory committees that advise on scientific issues are supposed to be scientists from the field that have no financial interests in the information or industry, enforcing objective advice. Both types now have issues that could harm the public interest.

The National Coal Council has a number of members who benefit financially from the committee's recommendations, Wind Turbines Guidelines Advisory Committee is stacked with corporate stakeholders instead of scientists, the National Organic Standards Board included a stakeholder from General Mills, the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee had several members tied to the industry that were misclassified as scientists and allowed to support programs outside their legal bounds, and the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee is almost exclusively comprised of industry members.

The lead CSPI investigator confirmed that it has only worsened over the course of the Bush administration. This is just one more indictment of the pro-industry stance taken by the outgoing administration. Scientists working at their own agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, have reported political interference in data and reports (889 of the 1,586 EPA staff scientists).

The problems with classification and conflicts of interest have been addressed many times. The Government Accountability Office criticized some committees and departments in 2004 and 2008, but additional legislation failed in 2008. The current legality covering advisory panels is the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Critics hope it will be addressed in the coming year.

No comments: