False Alarm: A Report on the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1971-2006
By Steven Milloy, August 2006
False Alarm: A Report on the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1971-2006 is the most comprehensive report ever about the food and beverage scares launched and/or promoted by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The more than 90 scares spotlighted in False Alarm demonstrate that, over the last 35 years, CSPI has tried to scare the public about virtually every sort of food and beverage – even fresh produce and water. Every scare has turned out to be almost entirely imaginary or greatly exaggerated.
Two words should come to mind when CSPI is mentioned: wrong and extreme.As the 91 scares indicate, CSPI has been either substantially or entirely wrong in virtually every scare it has undertaken to promote. CSPI’s position on nutrition and diet is extreme, once heralding food shortages as a means to health, stating:
Heart disease plummeted in Holland and Denmark during the most severe food shortages of World War II. Records of English manors in the 1600s revealed that the peasantry feasted on perhaps a pound of bread, a spud and a couple of carrots per day – “basically a wonderfully healthy diet…
The most presumptuous aspect of CSPI is its name, “Center for Science in the Public Interest.” As to science, CSPI doesn’t really do any. It may send restaurant or packaged food to outside laboratories for analysis of its fat and salt content – but this hardly constitute science so much as it does routine lab work.
To the extent that CSPI attempts to supply scientific rationale to its advocacy, it tends to jump to unwarranted conclusions – as in the case of bread and French fries being cancer threats, for example – or recycle decades-old nutritional myths that have long been debunked – as it does in virtually any attack on food involving fat, salt, and sugar, for example.
CSPI’s communications with the public are hardly scientific in nature. CSPI’s likening of a hamburger to a snuff film, for example, may be attention-grabbing, but it’s not how serious scientists describe their results. Moreover, the combination of hyperbolic language to scare the public with nutritional misinformation would seem to be irresponsible.
Irresponsibility, however, has not seemed to hurt CSPI. The group claims to have “900,000 members” and its 2005 tax return indicates that its gross revenue was $16.2 million – a budget in line with those of largest non-profit think-tanks in the U.S. CSPI’s astounding financial success is noteworthy in light of the group’s comment concerning food manufacturers advertising health claims on food packages:
It would be unfortunate if the claim turned out later to be untrue. No one’s going to get their money back.
So what is CSPI’s refund policy?
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