Wednesday, August 15, 2018

On the International Agency for Research on Cancer classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen

From European Journal of Cancer Prevention : the Official Journal of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation (ECP) [01 Jan 2018, 27(1):82-87]

By Robert E Tarone. Robert Tarone retired in 2016 after 28 years as Mathematical Statistician at the US National Cancer Institute and 14 years as Biostatistics Director at the International Epidemiology Institute. 
The recent classification by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the herbicide glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen has generated considerable discussion. The classification is at variance with evaluations of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate by several national and international regulatory bodies. The basis for the IARC classification is examined under the assumptions that the IARC criteria are reasonable and that the body of scientific studies determined by IARC staff to be relevant to the evaluation of glyphosate by the Monograph Working Group is sufficiently complete. It is shown that the classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen was the result of a flawed and incomplete summary of the experimental evidence evaluated by the Working Group. Rational and effective cancer prevention activities depend on scientifically sound and unbiased assessments of the carcinogenic potential of suspected agents. Implications of the erroneous classification of glyphosate with respect to the IARC Monograph Working Group deliberative process are discussed.

The $289 Million Verdict Against Monsanto Is Scientifically Outrageous

California jurors misled by activist misinformation

By Ronald Bailey of Reason. Excerpt:
"I am truly sorry that DeWayne Johnson is suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), but years of scientific research has determined that it is exceedingly unlikely, despite the outrageous verdict of a California jury on Friday, that he contracted NHL from using the herbicide glyphosate. Applying the relatively low standard of proof required in California civil courts that a claim is "more likely to be true than not true," the jury awarded Johnson a $289 million judgment including $250 million in punitive damages against Monsanto, the maker of the herbicide.

This is an injustice. So far every regulatory agency that has assessed the safety of glyphosate has concluded that it is unlikely to be a human carcinogen at doses at which people encounter the herbicide. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's December, 2017, draft human health risk assessment concluded that "glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." The agency's assessment additionally found "no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label."

Similarly, a 2015 evaluation of the herbicide by the highly precautionary European Food Safety Authority concluded that "glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans." Another EFSA review in May covering all crops treated with glyphosate included "a risk assessment which shows that current exposure levels are not expected to pose a risk to human health."

Specifically relevant to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a long run study of more than 50,000 licensed agricultural pesticide applicators in North Carolina and Iowa published in May reported that "in this large, prospective cohort study, no association was apparent between glyphosate and any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including NHL and its subtypes."

So given the reams of solid scientific evidence for the safety of glyphosate, how did the jury get their verdict so wrong? Among other things, the court allowed Environmental Defense Fund activist Christopher Portier to mislead them by permitting him to serve as an expert witness for the plaintiff Johnson.

As I reported earlier, Portier chaired the Advisory Group to Recommend Priorities for the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which recommended that the agency evaluate glyphosate. He subsequently served as an invited specialist to the IARC group that evaluated studies related to glyphosate and the risk of cancer. In 2015, the IARC issued, partly as a result of Portier's influence, a scientifically flawed monograph that classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen."

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Despite Monsanto Trial Verdict, World Still Needs Pesticides

By Lydia Mulvany of Bloomberg.
"It may seem like Judgment Day has come for glyphosate, with a California jury slapping $289 million in damages on Monsanto Co. in a cancer trial, and a federal judge in Brazil halting use of the herbicide over health concerns -- all in the space of a week.

Dramatic headlines are par for the course for Monsanto, a company that activists have targeted for decades and which Germany’s Bayer AG just bought for $66 billion. Bayer shares tumbled Monday on concerns over a protracted legal battle, but Monsanto has weathered these kinds of storms ever since its herbicide and the genetically modified crops it’s used on became such a critical part of modern agriculture.

Bayer Takes the Hit After Monsanto Loses Roundup Cancer Trial

Upon appeal, damages and rulings will likely be overturned or reduced, said Chris Perrella, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

In the end, glyphosate is the world’s most popular and widely used weedkiller for a reason. It has been good for the environment and good for farmers, and it’ll be needed as the global population expands by billions in the coming decades, Perrella said. The only alternatives to glyphosate are far “nastier” chemicals, or using diesel tractors to till fields, which creates a host of environmental problems, he said.

Soaring Yields

Crop yields have soared in recent years thanks to advances in seed technology, pesticides, herbicides and other inputs. Booming world harvests have helped to keep food inflation relatively tame even as global climate change has brought increased risks from drought, heat and storms. At the same time, there’s been growing consumer distrust of crop chemicals and GMOs, helping to drive a surge in demand for organic food.

While regulators around the world, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, say that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer, the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, labeled the chemical a probable carcinogen in 2015, opening the door to such lawsuits.

The California trial was just the first of more than 2,000 similar cases are pending, according to Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Monsanto plans to appeal the jury’s verdict.

Anti-GMO onlookers rejoiced after the verdict. The Organic Consumers Association said it hoped this would be the “first of many defeats” for the “most evil corporation in the world.” Monsanto said in a statement that the case didn’t change the fact that “more than 800 scientific studies and reviews” indicate that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer.

An Aug. 3 ruling by a federal judge in Brasilia suspended the use of glyphosate as the health ministry evaluates its toxicity. The Brazilian Soy Producers Association has promptly appealed.

“It’s as if the court just randomly said, you can’t use tractors, and we need to study the health effect of tractors,” Oxgaard said of the Brazilian ruling. “Ultimately, GMO haters have been spectacularly unsuccessful -- as much as they hate it and with the passion they hate it, penetration of GMOs keeps increasing every year.”"

Fact-checking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s media blitz

From The Washington Post Fact Checker. Excerpts:
“They [national Democrats] were campaigning most when we had more of an American middle class. This upper-middle class is probably more moderate but that upper-middle class does not exist anymore in America.”
— interview on “Pod Save America,” Aug. 7
Here’s some more sweeping rhetoric. In knocking the current leaders of the Democrats, stuck in “ ’90s politics,” Ocasio-Cortez said the “upper-middle class does not exist anymore.”
But the data show that while the middle class overall may have shrunk a bit, the upper-middle class has actually grown. In a 2016 paperpublished by the Urban Institute, Stephen J. Rose documented that the upper-middle class has grown substantially, from 12.9 percent of the population in 1979 to 29.4 percent in 2014. His analysis showed that there was a massive shift in the center of gravity of the economy, with an increasing share of income going to the upper-middle class and rich.
“In 1979, the middle class controlled a bit more than 46 percent of all incomes, and the upper-middle class and rich controlled 30 percent,” Rose wrote. “In contrast, in 2014 the rich and upper-middle class controlled 63 percent of all incomes (52 percent for the upper-middle class and 11 percent for the rich); the middle class share had shrunk to 26 percent; and the shares of the lower-middle class, poor, and near-poor had declined by half.”
“In a Koch brothers-funded study — if any study’s going to try to be a little bit slanted, it would be one funded by the Koch brothers — it shows that Medicare for all is actually much more, is actually much cheaper than the current system that we pay right now.”
— interview on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” Aug. 8
We recently gave this sort of claim Three Pinocchios. Some Democrats have seized on a reference in a study released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which receives some funding from the Koch Foundation, that a Medicare-for-all plan advanced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would reduce the country’s overall level of health expenditures by $2 trillion from 2022 to 2031. That’s because the Sanders plan would slash payments to providers by 40 percent.

But the study makes clear that this is an unrealistic assumption and in fact the plan would raise government expenditures by $32.6 trillion over 10 years. Without the provider cuts, the additional federal budget cost would be nearly $40 trillion. So, no matter how you slice it, the study does not say it would be “much cheaper” than the current system.
“The reason that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act is because they ruled that each of these monthly payments that everyday American make is a tax. And so, while it may not seem like we pay that tax on April 15th, we pay it every single month or we do pay at tax season if we don’t buy, you know, these plans off of the exchange.”
— interview on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” Aug. 8
This appears to be an example of not understanding policy nuances.
In the 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Affordable Care Act was deemed to be an appropriate exercise of the government’s taxing power. But Roberts was not referring to the monthly premium payments, as Ocasio-Cortez claims. Instead, Roberts was referring to the individual mandate to buy insurance — and the requirement to pay an annual penalty when filing a tax return if one did not buy health insurance.
“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Roberts wrote. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”
Ironically, the Obama administration had passed the law insisting the mandate was not a tax."

Monday, August 13, 2018

The myth of American inequality

Taxes and transfers in the U.S. put its income distribution in line with its large developed peers.

By Phil Gramm andJohn F. Early.

"America is the world’s most prosperous large country, but critics often attempt to tarnish that title by claiming income is distributed less equally in the U.S. than in other developed countries. These critics point to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which ranks the U.S. as the least equal of the seven largest developed countries. American progressives often weaponize statistics like these to urge greater redistribution. But the OECD income-distribution comparison is biased because the U.S. underreports its income transfers in comparison to other nations. When the data are adjusted to account for all government programs that transfer income, the U.S. is shown to have an income distribution that aligns closely with its peers.

The OECD measures inequality by determining a country’s “Gini coefficient,” or the proportion of all income that would have to be redistributed to achieve perfect equality. A nation’s Gini coefficient would be 0 if every household had the same amount of disposable income, and it would approach 1 if a single household had all of the disposable income. The current OECD comparison, portrayed by the blue bars in the nearby chart, shows Gini coefficients for the world’s most-developed large countries, ranging from 0.29 in Germany to 0.39 in the U.S.

But there are variations in how each nation reports income. The U.S. deviates significantly from the norm by excluding several large government transfers to low-income households. Inexplicably, the Census Bureau excludes Medicare and Medicaid, which redistribute more than $760 billion a year to the bottom 40% of American households. The data also exclude 93 other federal redistribution programs that annually transfer some $520 billion to low-income households. These include the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. States and localities directly fund another $310 billion in redistribution programs also excluded from the Census Bureau’s submission.

This means current OECD comparisons omit about $1.6 trillion in annual redistributions to low-income Americans—close to 80% of their total redistribution receipts. This significantly skews the U.S. Gini coefficient. The correct Gini should be 0.32—not 0.39. That puts the U.S. income distribution in the middle of the seven largest developed nations—the red bar on the chart.

Gini scores for other countries in the OECD ranking also might shift with better data: The OECD doesn’t publish transfers by income level for other countries. But the change in income distribution for other countries would likely be less drastic. The poorest fifth of U.S. households receive 84.2% of their disposable income from taxpayer-funded transfers, and the second quintile gets 57.8%. U.S. transfer payments constitute 28.5% of Americans’ disposable income—almost double the 15% reported by the Census Bureau. That’s a bigger share than in all large developed countries other than France, which redistributes 33.1% of its disposable income.

The U.S. also has the most progressive income taxes of its peer group. The top 10% of U.S. households earn about 33.5% of all income, but they pay 45.1% of income taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes. Their share of all income-related taxes is 1.35 times as large as their share of income. In Germany, the top 10% pay 1.07 times their share of earnings. The top 10% of French pay 1.1 times their share.

If the top earners pay smaller shares of income taxes in other countries, everybody else pays more. The bottom 90% of German earners pay a share of their nation’s taxes on income 77% larger than that paid by the bottom 90% of Americans. The bottom 90% in France pay nearly double the share their American counterparts pay. Even in Sweden—the supposed progressive utopia—the top 10% of earners pay only 5.9% of gross domestic product in income-related taxes, 22% less than their American peers. The bottom 90% of Swedes pay 16.3% of GDP in taxes on income, 77% more than in the U.S.

Even these numbers understate how progressive the total tax burden is in America. The U.S. has no value-added tax and collects only 35.8% of all tax revenues from non-income-tax sources, the smallest share of any OECD country. Most developed countries have large VATs and collect a far larger share of their state revenue through regressive levies.

When all transfer payments and taxes are counted, the U.S. redistributes a larger share of its disposable income than any country other than France. Relative to the share of income they earn, the share of income taxes paid by America’s high earners is greater than the share of income taxes paid by their peers in any other OECD country. The progressive dream of an America with massive income redistribution and a highly progressive tax system has already come true. To make America even more like Europe, these dreamers will have to redefine middle-income Americans as “rich” and then double their taxes.

—Mr. Gramm, a former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Early served twice as assistant commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is president of Vital Few LLC."

You'll Need To Re-Use That Cotton Shopping Bag 7,100 Times For It To Make Environmental Sense

By Hank Campbell of the American Council on Science and Health. Excerpt:
"Before straws this year, there was a war on plastic bags, brought about by, you guessed it, environmental press releases and carefully staged photos of garbage. Now poor people have to pay for bags, a regressive tax, unless they can foot the upfront cost for buying bags. And there is a health issue with reusing bags, unless you reuse them for garbage, namely bacterial buildup from meat and vegetables. How often do people wash their reusable bags? Ever? Well, rarely, a study found. Even the most casual cleaner knows you don't want meat drippings on your counter promoting illness the next time you make food, but most won't think about it in bags. And if you keep them in your trunk the bacteria could increase 10X.

But reusing bags is for Gaia, right?

Except it isn't. A recent study found that a cotton bag will need to be reused 7,100 times (2) for it to make sense from a Life Cycle Assessment environmental impact perspective - all the resources that go into manufacturing. 7,100 times means that if you go grocery shopping once per week (and you shouldn't go more often because that's bad for the environment too) you will have to use that bag for 136 years.

As Dr. Trevor Thornton, Lecturer in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Deakin University phrased it, "Our assumptions about what is environmentally friendly don’t always stand up to scrutiny.""

Sunday, August 12, 2018

No, Medicare for All Won't Lower Health-Care Costs

By Robert Graboyes of Mercatus. Excerpt:
"Sanders’s assumptions, if true, imply lower national health expenditures (NHE is total health-care spending by everyone, including governments, corporations, and individuals) by around $2 trillion over 2022–2031 — largely via forced pay cuts of roughly 40 percent for doctors, nurses, and other providers. At the same time, under this scenario, the federal government’s 10-year total expenditures would rise by $32.6 trillion (compared with current projections).

Blahous notes that this would change the financial relationship between American taxpayers and their federal government profoundly. To cover the $32.6 trillion, Congress would have to more than double corporate and federal income taxes. 

Contrary to claims by Senator Sanders and others, Blahous certainly didn’t predict that M4A would reduce health-care spending. He merely said that under the best-case scenario touted by M4A supporters, the bill would effectively transform the federal government into history’s largest insurance company — with much smaller subsidiaries engaged in foreign relations, defense, law enforcement, agriculture, transportation, and so forth.

As the study makes clear, M4A’s expenditure-cutting promises are dubious. Sanders assumes we can slam doctors, nurses, hospitals, drug companies, and others with enormous pay cuts, and yet expect them to happily provide even more services and products than they do now. He also assumes federal bureaucrats — contrary to a wealth of past experience — will be paragons of efficient management.

The study suggests these rosy outcomes are extremely unlikely. If Sanders’s dubious assumptions don’t come to fruition, total health-care spending (NHE) would rise, not fall, and federal spending would grow well beyond the already earth-shattering $32.6 trillion forecast. If the roughly 40 percent provider reimbursements don’t stick, for example, NHE would rise, and federal health expenditures would hit $38 trillion.

While a theoretical $2 trillion spending decrease sounds large in raw numbers, it is small in percentage terms — between 2 and 4 percent of health-care spending in any given year. Less-than-perfect performance by M4A would easily flip these purported savings into increases.
None of this is surprising. In 2016 the left-of-center Urban Institute estimated that an earlier version of M4A would increase federal expenditures by $32 trillion from 2017 through 2026 — a figure remarkably close to Blahous’s number.

Blahous’s numbers are also consistent with recent state-level forecasts. In 2011, Vermont passed a statewide single-payer plan but abruptly canceled it in 2014 when the magnitude of costs became evident. In 2017, the California Senate approved a single-payer plan, but that died in the Assembly (lower house) when budget estimates showed that — similar to Blahous’s findings — state taxes would have to more than double.

The risk of economic disruption proved too great even in states where the single-payer idea was enormously popular. Several other states have also moved enthusiastically toward single-payer and then tiptoed away.

The M4A bill is almost entirely redistributive. It doesn’t generate new doctors or drugs or hospital beds or medical devices. Nor does it alter how providers use those resources. In fact, massive reimbursement cuts and centralized direction would likely do the opposite: reduce the available resources and lock current modes of care in place. Increased care for one person would be offset by decreased care for others.

I’ve argued that single-payer would fulfill neither the Left’s dreams nor the Right’s nightmares (“Single Payer Health Care — Dream, Nightmare or Status Quo?”). Better care for more people at lower cost won’t come from scrambling the insurance system, as M4A would do, as Obamacare did, and as various Republican alternatives would do. Actual improvement will come from bold changes in the technologies and structures of care — from allowing health care to innovate as fervently as information technology has over the past quarter-century."