Filed Under: Food Police Food Scares

CSPI Lied On Acrylamide

Tomorrow the misnamed Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) will hold an “Integrity in Science” conference where attendees will “learn how corporate dollars are used to buy scientists.” CSPI’s implicit assumption is that any scientific research — whether on clean energy, food technology, or life-saving pharmaceuticals — is inherently suspect if any of its support comes from corporate sources. Rather than judge the scientists, CSPI would judge their grantmakers. And of course any criticism of CSPI’s brand of “scientific” research coming from corporate-funded sources is inherently flawed.

CSPI itself refuses corporate support, so its scientific research should be fact-driven, and devoid of politics (stop laughing!). But it turns out that CSPI’s petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over acrylamide in food was just the latest in a long string of pseudo-scientific reports motivated by an antagonism towards tasty food and the companies that provide it. Today the Center for Consumer Freedom submitted to the FDA a response to CSPI’s initial acrylamide petition. You can read our complete report to the FDA by clicking here. Among the many lapses in CSPI’s scientific “integrity”:

In making its flawed case to the FDA, CSPI acknowledged that it arbitrarily “adjusted [USDA] consumption data” reflecting Americans’ intake of nine categories of foods. The resulting inflated numbers allowed CSPI to suggest that Americans consume 27 percent more acrylamide than U.S. government data actually indicate.

CSPI’s petition makes the unsubstantiated claim that acrylamide “might cause (pancreatic) cancer in humans,” but CSPI goes on to admit in a footnote that the authors of its cited study “did not find an association between acrylamide and cancer.”

CSPI knowingly underestimated the average American body weight by more than 7 percent in order to overestimate acrylamide’s theoretical carcinogenic effects. This blunder is particularly ironic, considering that CSPI has gone out of its way in recent years to claim that America is in the throes of an “obesity epidemic.”

CSPI purposely limited itself to 1994-96 government data because including readily available data from 1998 would have resulted in lower acrylamide intake numbers.

CSPI admits that its chosen method of estimating cancer risk is outdated. Immediately after concluding that “dietary acrylamide causes an estimated 8,900 cancers per year, or 670,000 over the [U.S.] population’s lifetime,” CSPI concedes that “using more recent EPA methods for projecting cancer-risk findings may result in estimates several-fold less.”

CCF’s filing with the FDA concludes:

CSPI’s alarmist report to the FDA on the “dangers” of acrylamide is scientifically bankrupt, and should be disregarded wholly by regulators. The organization has a long history of attacking companies that produce the foods Americans enjoy most. This latest stunt, while devoid of any scientific basis, illustrates CSPI’s now-legendary biases.

The FDA should use this episode to make an example of CSPI, focusing on the tactics it uses to alarm consumers without any scientific basis. Organizations purporting to act “in the public interest” should be held to a high standard of scientific literacy and ethical conduct. In this case, CSPI has demonstrated neither. The public should be increasingly wary, and the government should decline to act upon petitions as ill-informed as CSPI’s.

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