While Mr. Glass criticizes CSPI's arguments and motives, he failed to focus the same critical eye on Procter & Gamble. For instance, children were tested for no longer than seven days and exposed to no more than the equivalent of one ounce of chips per day. The controlled studies on adults did not test olestra as a snack and did not use more than the equivalent of about three ounces of chips per day. Few people over 44 years old were tested, and the tests on carotenoids lasted a paltry eight weeks. And, of course, he fails to note that Procter & Gamble has a considerable pecuniary interest in this matter, hoping to reap billions of dollars in sales in the coming years.
Mr. Glass charges that "alcohol is a CSPI taboo." Wrong. We have stated (November, 1992, Nutrition Action) that moderate drinking likely reduces the risk of heart disease, but increases the risk of breast cancer. (Of course, we were clear about the health harm due to heavy drinking, including cancers of the mouth, voice box, esophagus, and liver.)
We did, indeed, conclude that the world does not need more drinkers, "even moderate ones." Mr. Glass conveniently omitted our rationale as expressed in the succeeding paragraph: A landmark National Academy of Sciences report stated that the "greatest proportion of alcohol problems can be attributed to moderate drinkers, because the number of people in this group is larger than the number of alcohol-dependent persons." Some of the huge number of moderate drinkers occasionally abuse alcohol or just happen to consume it moderately at the wrong time and the result is often a tragedy like an automobile crash.
Your writer charges that CSPI "lobbies tirelessly" to raise alcohol taxes (the most effective public health measure to reduce youth drinking and drunk-driving fatalities) and restrict advertising that unscrupulously attracts underage drinkers. More sin to which we confess. The coalition we help lead draws widespread support among groups as diverse as the National PTA, American Medical Association, and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. Even President Clinton and Senator Trent Lott agree that televised ads for liquor are irresponsible and unacceptable. Far from extreme, our positions on alcohol advertising and taxes enjoy overwhelmingly strong support from leaders concerned about substance abuse.
Mr. Glass questions CSPI's credibility because fourteen years ago we received a grant from the environmentally oriented Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation. While Mr. Glass says that the foundation was "founded with tobacco money," he all-too-conveniently fails to note that it was established not by a tobacco company, but by an heiress and, further, in the 1970s divested itself of all tobacco holdings. We believe that the funding we have received is distant enough from industry to ensure that it cannot reasonably be considered to constitute "industry" funding or pose a conflict of interest. CSPI is proud of its achievements despite eschewing all funding from government, corporations, corporate foundations, or trade associations.
Glaringly absent from your article is any discussion of why CSPI is concerned about nutrition and alcohol problems: Diets high in fatty meat and dairy products and vegetable shortening and low in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are a major cause of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The Department of Health and Human Services says that the typical American diet and sedentary lifestyle are responsible for about 400,000 deaths every year -- roughly the same number as are caused by tobacco. Likewise, the government estimates that alcohol is responsible for 100,000 deaths and $100 billion in economic costs annually.
Finally, one must wonder how much original research Mr. Glass conducted, considering the similarity between his piece and previously published articles. Thus, an op-ed by interns at Consumer Alert, a pro-business group, in Detroit News (Dec. 1) stated that CSPI "uses Quarter Pounders and Big Macs as yardsticks of death." Mr. Glass says that CSPI "began using the Big Mac or the Quarter Pounder as a yardstick." The Detroit News op-ed states, "what they regularly eat -- rather than their occasional splurge -- is far more important." Mr. Glass writes, "Certainly an occasional 'splurge' is no cause for self loathing." Likewise, a July op-ed from the conservative Hoover Institution in The Wall Street Journal stated, "[CSPI's] budget is funded mostly by $24-a-year subscriptions to its Nutrition Action Healthletter, a newsletter that has seen its circulation triple since 1991 to 900,000. Keeping that circulation up requires a lot of hype." Mr. Glass wrote: "In a drive to boost the newsletter subscriptions that are its primary source of revenue, the center has increasingly tended to abandon the scientific method in favor of media hype. . . . Since 1991, the newsletter's circulation has tripled. At $24 per year. . . . Now about three-quarters of CSPI's funding comes from the publication."
It appears that Mr. Glass made ample use of previous publications -- or that his article and other recent attacks on CSPI have all been "assisted" by materials being distributed by the food industry. It is worth noting that last November Jeff Prince, the former PR director of the National Restaurant Association, urged the food industry to find third parties to attack CSPI and "chip away . . . at CSPI's credibility." Prince said, "We would need to win the support of media critics . . . . [W]e'd need their support and I think we could get it." It appears that they "got it" in Mr. Glass.
The bottom line: Since 1971 CSPI has won a remarkable number of victories for consumers. CSPI obtained passage of a law requiring nutrition labeling of all packaged foods, stopped dozens of deceptive advertisements, obtained restrictions on the use of dangerous food preservatives, fought successfully for improvements in meat inspection, and helped combat problem drinking. CSPI's publications and campaigns have provided tens of millions of Americans with information that they are using daily to improve their health and encouraged companies to compete more on the basis of nutritional quality than package design. That is our record and who we are -- a record we are proud to stand by.
Kathleen F. O'Reilly
Chair, Board of Directors
Center for Science in the Public Interest