The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is supposed to be a “food police” and consumer advocacy group, was co-founded in 1971 by Michael Jacobson, who is still the executive director to this day. CSPI also manages the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, which is the largest nutrition advocacy coalition in the United States.1

CSPI has long proudly proclaimed that it does not accept any corporate money,2 but the general public actually plays a very small role in their funding. The organization is bankrolled by billionaires and their corporate entities, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies.3

It has also partnered with Bill Gates’ agrichemical PR group, the Cornell Alliance for Science,4 one of the most pro-GMO groups in the U.S. In fact, Greg Jaffe, head of CSPI’s Biotechnology Project, is also the part-time associate director of legal affairs for the Cornell Alliance for Science.5 In a 2015 statement, Gary Ruskin of U.S. Right to Know commented on the alliance:6

“Why is CSPI defending a technology that has health and environmental risks but nearly no consumer benefits? CSPI has done a lot of good work over the years. But on the issue of GMOs, they have lost their way.

It is regrettable that their standards have sunk so low that one of their staff, Greg Jaffe, now serves as the associate director of legal affairs for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a public relations shop that parrots agrichemical industry propaganda, partners with industry front groups, and works closely with many of the industry’s leading messengers.”

CSPI has also received significant funding from the American Heart Association,7 which in turn has received financial backing by the makers of Crisco.8 In its 2018 Form 990, the AHA reported giving CSPI $49,500 in cash.9 I guess they think you don’t have to count it as industry money if you accept that money from a major nonprofit that got its money from corporate and industry dollars.

CSPI Has Long History of Misguided Nutritional Advice

As you’d expect from an organization with funding sources such as those, CSPI also has a long history protecting and promoting foods known for their potentially adverse health impacts. These include artificial sweeteners, trans fats, soy, genetically engineered (GE) foods and fake meats.

Considering the suspected (and in some cases well-verified) health hazards of these types of foods and food ingredients, CSPI’s desire to protect public health is questionable to say the least. It seems they’re more interested in promoting big, profitable industries.

For example, it wasn’t until 2013 that CSPI finally downgraded the artificial sweetener from its former “safe” category to one of “caution.”10 In 2016, they downgraded it again, from “caution” to “avoid.”11 Remarkably, CSPI continues to promote diet soda as a safer alternative to regular soda to this day, saying it “does not promote diabetes, weight gain or heart disease in the way that full-calorie sodas do.”12

This, despite overwhelming scientific evidence showing artificial sweeteners are just as bad, and in some ways more harmful, than sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

CSPI-Monsanto Connection

In 2014, the American Soybean Association (ASA) held a legislative and educational forum sponsored by Monsanto.13 While that should come as no surprise, considering Monsanto was one of ASA’s biotech working group partners,14 what was surprising was that it featured a special presentation by Jacobson.

A few days later, the ASA posted the following comments on Facebook made by Jacobson during his presentation. It has since been taken down, but I did take a screenshot of it:15

“Many people have been made to fear genetically engineered ingredients, and it’s totally irrational,” and “The consumer is concerned about the safety of GMOs, but even critics have said, most off the record, that they are safe.”

ASA Jacobson

Jacobson’s attendance at a paid Monsanto function is perhaps one of the more egregious parts of CSPI’s history, and his statements at the forum make it clear that CSPI was fully onboard with Monsanto’s GMO agenda.

This was also evident in the CSPI’s support of the grossly misleading bioengineered (BE) logo.16 Here, again, CSPI sided with the Monsanto-funded ASA. The logo was sharply criticized by organic producers for the fact that it falsely presents GE foods as natural and wholesome.

bioengineered logo

CSPI Was an Early Promoter of GMOs

For years, CSPI has proven it’s out of step with democracy and is beholden to the likes of Monsanto and Bill Gates. As reported by Center for Food Safety in 2013:17

“One advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), often seen as a leader in nutrition policy, stands virtually alone in its continued opposition to labeling GE foods.

This stance is troubling and confusing given how outspoken CSPI has been for decades on food labeling and consumer information. CSPI’s position, explained in this recent news interview,18 boils down to three claims:

1. GE foods do not present either safety or nutrition concerns

2. Processed GE foods do not contain genetically-engineered material

3. Non-GE labels are ‘misleading’ because they imply a safer or superior food”

Believe it or not, but CSPI has been arguing that GE crops are safe to eat for over two decades now, despite the fact that such crops have a more than questionable safety profile and are loaded with health-harming pesticides. Many of the problems associated with GMOs are reviewed in the nine-part documentary series “GMOs Revealed.”

CSPI was also instrumental in driving the anti-GMO labeling campaign forward, which ultimately resulted in the United States being the only country in the world that does not have clear GMO labeling.

In August 2001, the organization actually urged the FDA to take enforcement action against food companies using non-GMO labels, claiming such labels could “deceive consumers.” However, as is evident in its press release, CSPI was well aware that Americans preferred non-GMO foods and that accurate labeling would simply inhibit GMO sales:19

“CSPI recently conducted a national opinion poll that found that labels stating ‘GE’ or ‘non-GE’ would influence many consumers’ perceptions and preferences.

About 31% of consumers said that products labeled GE were not as safe as non-GE foods. A similar percentage said that foods labeled ‘does not contain genetically engineered ingredients’ were better than unlabeled foods. Only about 10% said that the GE-labeled product was safer or better … 

Given many consumers’ innate skepticism of any new technology, CSPI said that manufacturers must be careful not to mislead consumers. ‘FDA needs to send a clear message to manufacturers that label statements need to be both accurate and not imply superiority,’ added Jaffe.”

CSPI Undermined GMO Labeling Movement

Jaffe also undermined the GMO labeling movement in his testimony20 at a 2015 Energy and Commerce Committee hearing21 on the Pompeo bill H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015.

Colloquially known as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, it stripped states’ of their right to implement food labeling laws and regulations that restricts or bans the growing of GMO crops.

At the time, polls showed over 90% of Americans wanted GMO labeling, yet Jaffe argued that he’s not sure consumers really want to know whether foods contain GMOs, despite polling results. He also claimed there were no studies showing GMOs might be harmful. For a consumer advocate, it was a reprehensibly ignorant position.

In a 2014 interview22 with Food Product Design, Jaffe claimed the technology used to create GMO foods simply involves “adding one or two genes in a very precise way to a crop that already has thousands of genes” — falsely insinuating that doing so leads to completely predictable results.

He then went on to use the oft-repeated but false industry claim that “there is a strong international consensus … that the foods made from the current GE crops are safe to eat.”

Meanwhile, a January 2015 statement23 signed by 300 scientists, researchers, physicians and scholars asserted the exact opposite of what Jacobson and Jaffe claim, namely that there’s no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and that the claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is in actuality “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated.”

The paper also noted that such a claim “is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue.”

If the CSPI’s mission is to “represent citizens’ interests” and “ensure that science and technology are used for the public good,” as stated in its mission statement,24 how does it justify its anti-consumer position on the safety of GMOs? It seems fairly irreconcilable.

The same can be said about its stance on ultraprocessed fake meat, which it wants to be disguised as regular meat. In a May 2018 letter to the FDA,25 CSPI urges the agency “to reject efforts by the United States Cattlemen’s Association to prohibit use of the terms “meat” or “beef” on plant-based and cultured proteins marketed as alternatives to traditional meat.”

CSPI’s Stance on Fats Has Been All Wrong

CSPI has also been horribly wrong on fats — probably because it was in bed with the soybean industry. In the 1980s, it spearheaded a highly successful campaign against the use of healthy saturated fats, touting trans fats as a healthier alternative. Its “Big Fat Myths” webpage still claims that:26

“Most experts agree that we should replace saturated fats with foods rich in unsaturated fats like seafood, nuts, salad dressing, mayo, and oils like soy, canola, and olive.”

It was largely the result of CSPI’s campaign that fast-food restaurants replaced the use of beef tallow, palm oil and coconut oil with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils,27 which are high in synthetic trans fats linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases.

In 1988, CSPI even released an article28 praising trans fats, saying “there is little good evidence that trans fats cause any more harm than other fats” and “much of the anxiety over trans fats stems from their reputation as ‘unnatural.'” It wasn’t until the 1990s that CSPI reversed their position on synthetic trans fats, but by then the damage had already been done.

The group’s successful influence on the food industry is discussed in David Schleifer’s article, “The Perfect Solution: How Trans Fats Became the Healthy Replacement for Saturated Fats,”29 in which he noted that, “the transition from saturated to trans fats shows how activists can be part of spurring corporations to change.”

CSPI rarely admits its errors, however. In fact, rather than openly admitting it was flat out wrong about trans fats and had misled the public on this issue, CSPI has simply deleted sections of its previous support of it from the web.30 Notice how their historical timeline31 of trans fat starts at 1993 — the year CSPI realized the jig was up and they had to support the elimination of trans fat.

trans fat timeline

The truth of the matter is that vegetable oils — a primary source of trans fats — are likely worse for your health than excess sugar. If you need a refresher, see Dr. Chris Knobbe’s lecture featured in “Are Seed Oils Behind the Majority of Diseases This Century?” and “Why Vegetable Oils Are Carcinogenic.”

CSPI Helped to Double Unhealthy Skim Milk Sales

CSPI has also been a promoter of the thoroughly debunked low-fat myth. In 1995, CSPI launched a “1% or Less” campaign that urged everyone over the age of 2 to switch from whole and 2% milk to skim milk (also known as nonfat or fat-free milk) in order to reduce their saturated fat intake.32,33,34

It was another successful campaign that resulted in the doubling of skim milk sales.35 However, just like their trans fat campaign, this was equally ill advised. Research36 shows full-fat dairy actually lowers your risk of death from diabetes and cardiovascular causes such as stroke.

Indeed, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that consuming whole fats can be an important part of maintaining optimal health and actually fights heart disease and other diseases prevalent today rather than causing them.

In one analysis37 of blood fats in more than 2,900 adults, published 2018, the mortality rate over 22 years was identical regardless of the levels. This finding is just one of many that exonerates whole milk as a health wrecker.

Another aspect of the CSPI’s advice that doesn’t necessarily make sense is the fact that the fat removed from the milk during the making of skim milk38 isn’t thrown away. It’s made into cream, butter and other food products, so it’s still in the food supply and still being consumed.

Can You Trust CSPI?

Considering how they’ve misled the public on such important health issues such as artificial sweeteners, trans fats, soy, GMOs and ultraprocessed fake meats, the CSPI needs to go the same way as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which also fought against your right to know the truth about your food.

CSPI’s campaign in the ’80s switched Americans onto heart disease causing trans fats. They fought against GMO labeling and is partnered with Bill Gates’ agrichemical PR group, Alliance for Science.

Now CSPI is calling for regulatory enforcement action against companies selling vitamins and supplements with antiviral effects,39 saying they’re exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic for their own gain.

They’re even trying to bring an end to the website, simply because we’re reporting published research relating to potential COVID-19 remedies. So please, share the truth about this dangerous group that is bankrolled by billionaires. Email, tweet, text and share by any method possible and help expose CSPI’s dangerous lies.

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