Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Jaundiced Eye for CSPI

This post began as a response to comments on the previous post. Three paragraphs in, I decided the response deserved a post of its own. Two or three commenters defended the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for its efforts to educate people about health issues, and wondered why a libertarian should have a problem with it. The problem is, CSPI is not the benign organization it might appear to be.

First, CSPI does not merely provide information to the public. It is an activist organization that promotes government intervention to promote its "health agenda." Among other things, it favors a fat tax and a ban on fast-food advertising during any show watched by kids. See here and here and here.

Second, the information CSPI provides is often biased. They'll use any information that supports their policy positions, no matter how poor the research. For instance, they have claimed repeatedly that "alco-pop beverages" are marketed to underage drinkers, based on the flimsiest of evidence. The FTC investigated CSPI's claims and found them utterly without merit. See here and here.

Third, they don't trust consumers to hear the information and make an informed decision. Instead, they want to provide consumers with their information and then ban any competing or contradictory information. For instance, they want to mandate big warning labels on all alcoholic products – and to prohibit alcohol companies from advertising any of the well-supported health benefits of moderate drinking. See here and here.

This is not to say that CSPI does nothing good. Its information about calorie counts, when provided to the public instead of being used as a legal bludgeon, can be useful. (I doubt, however, the usefulness of making hyperbolic statements about items like the Monster Thickburger, which everyone knows is incredibly high in calories in fat – that was the whole point!) They have also taken part in the fight against the “food disparagement” lawsuits, like the one Texas beef producers launched against Oprah Winfrey. But CSPI is too often on the wrong side to be applauded or trusted.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Glen about the rotten & paternalistic nature of the CSPI. I don't like their creepy know-it-all spokesman either. I don't need them to tell me what to eat nor do I think they know what is best for ME or my kids. Although, I am appalled when it comes to marketing poisonous cigarettes to kids with Joe Camel ads; that's not right and R J Reynolds knows it. I happen to think that eggs are very wholesome and I never believed that because they contain cholesterol they shouldn't be eaten. I know that butter is safe to eat while man-made margarine is toxic waste. Btw, vitamins A, D, E etc. are fat soluble vitamins which means that fat is necessary for the vitamins to be carried into the cells of the body. This obsession with all fat as being bad is just ridiculous. Glen's right, the CSPI is worse than 10 Dbl Dbls at In & Out.

Anonymous said...

True. The no-fat diet similar to the diet that is recommended for adults can actually be detrimental to a kid's health. Children apparently need a certain amount of fat. Baby fat on children I suppose is cute; nothing unsightly as a mal-nourished lanky kid. But I think as an adult, we lose that ability to process fats as effeciently as we did as children.

That site you linked to your post is also biased. They are also touting their propaganda. And I thought the primary reason for the taxes on cigs and alcohol was to deter teenagers from purchasing them. In which case, I think it's a very good thing. I think studies have shown that it's been proven effective, but I'm not sure.

The last proposal from CSPI, "Taxpayer-funded nutrition counseling for food-stamp recipients."--I thought sounded good at first, but then I realized that it's not education that the poor people need. We have plenty of that in the media these days. But healthy food is more expensive than fast food. A meal at McD's will cost you 4 bucks but go to any healthier places, it's about 8 bucks. But I guess in this case, their talking about food stamps for groceries. But that's stupid because most of the health issues arise from eating out at these places.

Glen Whitman said...

SK -- you're right that the organization I linked to has its own agenda. That's why I made a point of linking to actual CSPI sources as well. There's no doubt that CSPI has, in fact, taken the policy prescriptions I mentioned. They do support a fat tax. They do favor requiring warning labels on alcohol while *prohibiting* any positive health information. They have definitely cheered on the fast-food lawsuits. Etc.