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.
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.”
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.