Ideas on WHO Delegates at Odds
On rare occasions, WHO may not know the name of an expert and will ask HHS for one. But he added: "I wouldn't see it [that option] as a loophole . . . it should not be overplayed as a norm."
WHO has a similar arrangement with about a dozen countries, including China, India and Russia. In response to a question, Aitken said he believes the agreement with Russia dated from the Soviet period.
"We are not treating the U.S. any differently in this regard," Aitken said, adding that he was awaiting Steiger's response.
Last week, William A. Pierce, the HHS spokesman, said the department viewed Aitken's letter as an agreement to its terms and had no immediate plans to contact him.
"Denis said yes. He said okay. No way to get around that," Pierce said.
In the April letter, Steiger gave no reason for the new policy except to say that WHO's practice of inviting scientists directly "has not always resulted in the most appropriate selections."
But several government scientists, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they believe the policy arose in part from federal employees' work on WHO's Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which was adopted by the organization's assembly in May. Two CDC researchers and an NIH economist were involved in writing or reviewing scientific material that undergirded the strategy.
One of the supporting documents summarized evidence on the health effects of concentrated sugars and recommended they make up no more than 10 percent of a diet's calories. That position was opposed by sugar growers.
The strategy says that taxes and marketing restrictions on junk foods are possible ways to discourage their consumption. That suggestion was criticized by Steiger and representatives of the grocery industry, among others.
Derek Yach, formerly head of WHO's noncommunicable diseases section and now a professor of public health at Yale University, said HHS officials questioned the scientific basis of several conclusions about the role of diet and exercise in obesity even though some of the key underlying research had been "reported and published by their own scientists."
Pierce said one of the reasons the department wants to name the U.S. scientists who serve on expert panels is to spread that privilege around.
"This policy will give more of our scientists this career-enhancing opportunity," he said. The appointments "are good for their careers; they're prestigious."
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