NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Food Police: Misleading the Public?

September 23, 2003

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an influential D.C.-based "nanny group," is on a mission to study potentially hazardous food and drink items, get "dangerous" products off the shelves, and shape federal regulatory policy. However, its research claims are often contradictory and misleading, says Jacob Sullum in Reason magazine.

For example, while it condemns certain items as fattening or even disease-causing, it often rejects safer alternatives as well. Its frequent publications and newsletters reflect "the group's preference for the natural over the synthetic, its dislike of big business and mass trends, and...its suspicion of pleasure without pain." According to the CSPI:

  • Soda can cause everything from osteoporosis to heart disease, but diet soda is not an acceptable replacement because it contains aspartame (even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed it safe after numerous studies).
  • People should eat plenty of fruit and vegetables but wash and skin them first to get rid of hazardous pesticides which could (but most likely don't) cause cancer.
  • Fast food French fries contain far too much acrylamide (a rodent carcinogen) to be safe (though a recent study in the British Journal of Cancer finds no link between acrylamide consumption and increased risk of several forms of cancer).

CSPI has also been at the forefront of getting olestra, a fat substitute, and "Quorn," a vegetarian poultry substitute, off the market by collecting consumer complaints and creating waves of negative publicity for their producers.

The CSPI routinely ignores food safety studies in respected journals that contradict their message, which is that good health requires total abstention from "bad" foods. Their brand of pseudoscience is marketed to scare consumers and prevent meaningful debate about the potential risks of certain foods, says Sullum.

Source: Jacob Sullum, "The Anti-Pleasure Principle," Reason, July 3, 2003.

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