Back in 1971 and just a year out of grad school, I met two other scientists—Jim Sullivan and Al Fritsch—who were also working with Ralph Nader. After a few months, we came up with a crazy idea: Why not start a group run by scientists instead of lawyers? So, with no money, no experience in running an organization, and no connections, we created the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Somehow, with a grant here and a publication there, we found the resources to build up a staff. When Jim and Al left at the end of 1977, I became executive director.

In 1974, we started a newsletter to connect progressive nutritionists. When we realized that the public also had a thirst for credible information, we started selling subscriptions. That publication? Nutrition Action Healthletter. Over the years, Nutrition Action’s subscribers (about 600,000 now) and donors have largely fueled CSPI’s activities.

I’m so proud of what our little band of scientists, lawyers, and advocates has accomplished:

  • New laws. We led efforts for laws mandating Nutrition Facts labels, calories on menus, healthier school foods, new food-safety protections, and better labeling of allergens.
  • Safer foods. We got rid of partially hydrogenated oil (the source of artificial trans fat), sulfites (a sometimes-lethal allergen) that were used to treat fresh vegetables, Violet 1 dye, and Olestra (we laughed the diarrhea-inducing fake fat out of the food supply).
  • Healthier foods. Our campaigns led to declines in soda pop and sugar consumption and curbed junk food ads aimed at children.
  • Fewer deceptive labels and ads. We used publicity, complaints to government agencies, and lawsuits to end deceptive claims by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, Campbell, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, and many others.

After 46 years—and I can’t tell you how much fun it has been!—I’ve decided that it’s time to catch up on reading, travel more, and think about new approaches to improving the public’s health. So, on September 12, I’ll be turning CSPI’s reins over to Dr. Peter Lurie.

Peter is a family physician and former Associate Commissioner for Public Health Strategy and Analysis at the Food and Drug Administration. He led the FDA’s initiatives on antibiotic resistance and transparency, and worked on international tobacco control and caffeinated beverages, among other things.

At Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, where he worked previously, Peter focused on drug safety. He is co-author of the popular consumer guide to medications, Worst Pills, Best Pills.

I have total confidence that Peter will build on CSPI’s record of accomplishment and continue to win new public protections, provide consumers with accurate information, serve as a check on industry’s power, and nurture a new generation of public-interest scientists.