Center for Science in the Public Interest

Center for Science in the Public Interest
Abbreviation CSPI
Formation 1971
Type Non-profit
Purpose/focus Consumer advocacy
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Region served United States

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit watchdog and consumer advocacy group focusing on nutritional education and awareness.


History and funding

CSPI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

CSPI is a consumer advocacy organization. Its focus is nutrition and health, food safety, and alcohol policy. CSPI is headed by Michael F. Jacobson, who founded the group in 1971 along with James Sullivan and Albert Fritsch, two fellow scientists from Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law. In the early days, CSPI focused on various aspects such as nutrition, environmental issues, and nuclear energy. However, after the 1977 departure of Fritsch and Sullivan, CSPI began to focus exclusively on nutrition and food safety.[1]

CSPI has 501(c)(3) status. Its chief source of income is its Nutrition Action Health Letter, which has about 900,000 subscribers and does not accept corporate advertising.[2][3] The organization receives about 5 to 10 percent of its $17 million annual budget from grants by private foundations.

Programs and campaigns

Nutrition and food labeling

CSPI has advocated for more accurately defined nutrition and food labeling.[4] For example, labeling of "low-fat" or "heart healthy" foods in restaurants must now meet specific requirements established by the Food and Drug Administration as of May 2, 1997.[5] In 1994, the group first brought the issue of high saturated fat in movie popcorn to the public attention. In 2003, it worked with lawyer John F. Banzhaf III to pressure ice cream retailers to display nutritional information about their products. Most recently, CSPI has focused on nutrition labeling at chain restaurants and has helped introduce menu labeling legislation in several U.S. cities and states. Its guidelines include detailed nutrition labeling, a prohibition on trans fats additives, and reducing the amount of sodium in processed foods.

In 1989, CSPI was instrumental in convincing fast-food restaurants to stop using animal fat for frying, promoting the use of trans fats instead. They would later reverse their position on the use of trans fats.[6]

In 1998, the Center published a report entitled Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans' Health. It examined statistics relating to the soaring consumption of soft drinks, particularly by children, and the consequent health ramifications including tooth decay, nutritional depletion, obesity, type-2 (formerly known as "adult-onset") diabetes, and heart disease. It also reviewed soft drink marketing and made various recommendations aimed at reducing soft drink consumption, in schools and elsewhere. A second, updated edition of the report was published in 2005.[7] Among the actions they advocate taxing soft drinks.[8]

Food Safety Initiative

One of CSPI's largest projects is its Food Safety initiative, directed to reduce food contamination and foodborne illness. In addition to publishing Outbreak Alert!, a compilation of food-borne illnesses and outbreaks, the project supports the establishment of a new Food Safety Administration that would combine the food safety functions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) into a single agency.

Alcohol Policies Project

The group's "Alcohol Policies Project" advocates against what it considers adverse societal influences of alcohol, such as marketing campaigns that target young drinkers,[9] and promotes turning self-imposed advertising bans by alcohol industry groups into law.[10] The project is run by long-time director George Hacker, a lawyer who also co-directs the Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems.

One of the main activities of the project is the "Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV". Launched in 2003 with support of at least 80 other local and national groups, the campaign asked schools to pledge to prohibit alcohol advertising on local sports programming and to work toward eliminating alcohol advertising from televised college sports programs.[11] It also sought Congressional support for such a prohibition.[12]

In addition, CSPI has pressured alcoholic beverage companies with lawsuits. In one such lawsuit, filed in September 2008, the Center "sue[d] MillerCoors Brewing Company over its malt beverage Sparks, arguing that the caffeine and guarana in the drink are additives that have not been approved by the FDA," and that the combination of those ingredients with alcohol resulted in "more drunk driving, more injuries, and more sexual assaults."[13]


CSPI's public policy recommendations, and sometimes the organization's motivation for making them, have been challenged by various parties, particularly those within the food industry that have been the most directly affected.

One example is CSPI's contention, from the mid-1990s onward, that trans fats pose a public health danger. Three trade groups — the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers and the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils — in response "said the evidence was contradictory and inconclusive, and accused CSPI of jumping to a premature conclusion."[14] (Numerous studies and public health agencies have since supported the view that trans fats carry health risks.[15][16][17]) A Wall Street Journal editorial acknowledged the risks, but argued that CSPI itself was partly to blame for creating the problem. In its 1980s campaign against saturated fats (at a time when even CSPI itself maintained that trans fats were relatively benign),[18] CSPI had persuaded many restaurants, such as McDonald's,[19] to introduce trans fats in the first place.[20]

Other critics — such as the restaurant, food, and tobacco industry-funded Center for Consumer Freedom— refer to CSPI as "the Food Police,"[21][22] and suggest its focus on food manufacturers and retailers distracts from "real culprits... a lack of exercise and people's unwillingness to take personal responsibility for their own diets."[21] In a Washington Times (a conservative newspaper) editoral, former U.S. Representative Bob Barr (a libertarian-learning Republican) also pointed to individual responsibility for dietary choices and accused CSPI of pursuing "a pre-existing political agenda".[22] Cato Institute (a Washington D.C.-based libertarian think tank) scholar Walter Olson wrote that the group's "longtime shtick is to complain that businesses like McDonald’s, rather than our own choices, are to blame for rising obesity," and called CSPI's suit against McDonald's on behalf of a California mother a "new low in responsible parenting"[23]

In 2002, food industry lobbyist Rick Berman, who is also the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom,[21] announced a series of print and radio ads designed in part to drive traffic to the CCF website. A San Francisco Chronicle article identified CSPI as "one of two groups singled out [by the CCF] for full-on attack," and said, "What's not mentioned on the [CCF] Web site is that it's one of a cluster of such nonprofits started... by Berman."[24]

Additional criticism, however, has even come from former members of CSPI. One critic in particular is former CSPI director Doug Gurian-Sherman, now a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.[25]


  1. ^ James Bennett & Thomas DiLorenzo, Food and Drink Police: Center for Science in the Public Interest wants government to control our eating habits, (Health Care News, May 2002).
  2. ^ "Nutrition Action Health Letter". Center for Science in the Public Interest. 
  3. ^ "Our Funding: CSPI Funding Sources". Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  4. ^ Masterson, K (2007-10-14). "Food cop: Love him or hate him". Chicago Tribune. 
  5. ^ Kurtzweil, P. (1997-07). "Today's Special: Nutrition Information". FDA Consumer magazine (May–June 1997). 
  6. ^ "CSPI Accomplishments". Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved 2007-10-02. 
  7. ^ Michael F Jacobson PhD, Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans' Health, (CSPI, Washington DC 1998; 2nd Ed. 2005).
  8. ^ "Taxing Soda Could Trim State Deficits (and Waistlines), Says Report". 2010-04-01. 
  9. ^ Nat Ives. "The media business: Advertising; a trade group tries to wean the alcohol industry from full-figured twins and other racy images". New York Times. March 6, 2003.
  10. ^ "Alcohol industry ends its ad ban in broadcasting", New York Times. November 8, 1996.
  11. ^ "Colleges are reaching their limit on alcohol". USAToday. November 16, 2006.
  12. ^ "Bill would ask N.C.A.A. to forgo alcohol ads". New York Times. March 9, 2005.
  13. ^ Sullum, Jacob (2011-02-16) Loco over Four Loko, Reason
  14. ^ "Debate Flares on Fat From Hydrogenated Oils". New York Times. 1996-08-08. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  15. ^ "Trans fat: Avoid this cholesterol double whammy". Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved 10-1-09. 
  16. ^ Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC (13 April 2006). "Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease". New England Journal of Medicine 354 (15): 1601–1613. doi:10.1056/NEJMra054035. PMID 16611951. 
  17. ^ Trans Fat Task Force (June 2006). TRANSforming the Food Supply (Appendix 9iii). Retrieved 10-01-09.  (See Question #5.)
  18. ^ Blume, Elaine (March, 1988). "The truth about trans: hydrogenated oils aren't guilty as charged". Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by CSPI. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  19. ^ Severson, Kim (2002-09-04). "McDonald's Oil Change". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  20. ^ "The Bloomberg Diet: The nanny state reaches into the kitchen". Wall Street Journal. 2006-12-09. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  21. ^ a b c Warner, Melanie (2005-06-12). "Striking Back at the Food Police". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  22. ^ a b Barr, Bob (2006-09-17). "Scientific Research Ruse". Washington Times. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  23. ^ Olson, Walter (2010-12-15) McDonald's suit over Happy Meal toys by California mom Monet Parham new low in responsible parenting, New York Daily News
  24. ^ Ness, Carol (2002-05-11). "Hand that feeds bites back: Food industry forks over ad campaign to win hearts, stomachs". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  25. ^ (2005-03-02). "CSPI "simply wrong on the science" says its former science director". Retrieved 2011-5-22. 


  • Center for Science in the Public Interest. Project to Empower Students to Transform the Campus Drinking Culture: Survival Skills for the Successful Advocate. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, n.d.
  • Goetz, D. Liquor industry gets stricter on advertising. Louisville Courier-Journal, 10.09.03

External links

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