The Chemical Industry’s PR Whores at the AMERICAN COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND HEALTH
Led by Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH bills itself as:
“… a consumer education organization concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health.”
WHOSE INTERESTS DOES ACSH SERVE?
“Who eats my bread dances to my tune.” – Old German Proverb
ACSH is heavily financed by corporations with specific and direct interest in ACSH’s chosen battles. Since it was created in 1978, it has come to the enthusiastic defense of virtually every chemical or additive backed by a major corporate interest. In many of these cases, investigative journalists already have exposed direct connections between ACSH and its funders. But in almost every instance, it takes little effort to discover which funder in the list below has a vested interest in supporting ACSH’s message.
Everything Bad is Good Again
Endocrine Disruptors: In 1999 ACSH Scientists found no convincing evidence that certain synthetic chemicals in the environment endanger human health by disrupting the human endocrine system.
rBST (rBGH) Milk: In 1998 ACSH called an attack on milk from rBST-treated cows an unwarranted distortion of science. The report stated that milk from such cows will lead to elevated levels of a hormone called IGF-1 which in turn will cause increased risk of prostate cancer.
Food Irradiation: In the article “Irradiation best way to end E. coli threat,” by Scripps Howard News Service in September 1997, Elizabeth Whelan is quoted as saying “the unpopularity of irradiation to date in the United States is not based in science, but is due to anti-technology advocates who circulate unfounded claims that it poses a health hazard.” She makes no mention of the fact that scientists have come out against irradiation, but have been silenced by the popular media. Several of the ACSH funders would benefit if irradiation of food were a practice accepted by consumers. The way industry and the FDA have managed to sidestep the issue is to declare it safe, make the labeling of it obscure, and keep public awareness of it negligible.
Cholesterol: ACSH issued a report in 1991 stating that there is no proven link between heart disease and a diet high in fat and cholesterol.
Saccharin: According to a 1985 article in the Washington Post by Howard Kurtz, ACSH received funding from Coca-Cola, Pepsi, NutraSweet and the National Soft Drink Association, and attacked reports that saccharin is carcinogenic.
Formaldehyde: The same article noted that ACSH filed a friend-of-the-court brief in 1982 in a lawsuit brought by the Formaldehyde Institute. The suit successfully overturned a federal ban on insulation made with formaldehyde. Georgia-Pacific Co., a leading producer of the chemical and member of the Formaldehyde Institute, paid its Washington, DC, law firm to write the brief ACSH submitted the brief under its own name.
Global Warming: In its position paper on global warming, ACSH states that implementation of fossil-fuel restrictions could “weaken the global economic system, [and] increase the incidence of poverty-related illness worldwide…” This is a case of selective reasoning-choosing the facts that fit and discarding the rest. Mainstream scientists recognize that a primary effect of global warming would be an increase in poverty-related illnesses such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever — diseases dependent upon warm, wet climates.
Love Canal: Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan says, “Was there ever any real health problem at Love Canal? Yes, there was, in the sense that there was an enormous amount of media-induced stress placed on residents who were terrified that they and their children would become ill.”
Alar: In many ways, ACSH’s work on the Alar issue is exemplary of the way the group works. Chemical makers-with the assistance of industry front groups like ACSH-found a gold mine in keeping the decade-old Alar controversy alive. Although the chemical was banned by the government in 1991 and the EPA named it a possible human carcinogen, saying that “long-term exposure to Alar poses unacceptable risks to the public health,” the American public generally recalls the issue as a case in which environmentalists were wrong. They are incorrect.
In a 1973 study, Alar, a chemical used to lengthen the amount of time that apples could be left to ripen on the tree, was found to break down into a product called UMDH that is 1,000 times more carcinogenic than Alar itself. UMDH is formed when apples are cooked to make applesauce or apple juice.
When environmental groups claimed that Alar was a danger, ACSH attacked the groups, maintaining the chemical was safe and the target of a media scare. Not surprisingly, ACSH receives funding from Uniroyal, the company that made Alar.
Over the last decade, ACSH has made the Alar controversy a prominent part of its hallmark “Facts Versus Fears” report. A review of more than 25 “unfounded health scares,” including dangers associated with saccharin, hormones in beef and DDT, the report is a who’s who of products manufactured by ACSH’s funders.
ACSH’s disinformation campaign on Alar has been alive almost since the controversy began; dozens of articles in papers from around the country have published articles on the so-called “health scare.” Though one of ACSH’s main points about the incident was that it had a devastating effect on the apple industry, even the Washington Apple Commission noted that only two to three percent of consumers still were concerned about the chemical just a year after the story broke.
Less than a year ago, ACSH and “Facts Versus Fears” even made it into the pages of the New York Times – twice. The first piece was summary of the report’s highlights. The second was an official correction in which the Times named Uniroyal as an ACSH funder, and clarified that the Alar was pulled from the market by the company before an EPA ban could take effect.
C. EVERETT KOOP’S HISTORY WITH ACSH
Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s association with ACSH and Elizabeth Whelan is longstanding. In 1992, the pair joined forces in the same way they would years later in their partnership on the “blue-ribbon panel” on phthalates.
ACSH sponsored a Washington, DC, press conference on the third anniversary of the Alar controversy. Koop headed a panel of “experts” that claimed Alar never posed a health risk. According to an article in PR Watch, the Hill and Knowlton public relations firm persuaded Koop to write a statement that apples were safe.
Whelan and Koop teamed up again to denounce Diet for a Poisoned Planet, a book that warned against the use of pesticides and chemical residues in foods. That campaign was organized by Ketchum Public Relations before the release of the book. Lorraine Thelian, the director of the Washington office of Ketchum, sits on the ACSH Board of Directors. Thelian is an expert on “environmental PR work,” and her office represents a number of ACSH funders. Koop issued a statement calling the book “trash.”
On May 25 of this year, ACSH announced that it had joined forces with Koop’s new Internet healthcare site, drkoop.com. From the release:
“The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a non-profit, consumer-advocacy organization is creating an exclusive health wire service for drkoop.com consumers. Guided by ACSH experts and written by experienced wire service journalists, the daily ACSH newswire will help people better understand the health stories they see on the news by adding the often-missing scientific perspective. This partnership with drkoop.com gives consumers, who are constantly bombarded with conflicting and often alarming health news, an unbiased, scientific analysis of the latest trends in health and medicine, as well as clarifications of health misinformation found in the mainstream press.”
Before consumers or reporters rely on ACSH for an “unbiased” analysis, they should review the record on the real sources of funding and points of view.
A final word on the relationship between ACSH and its funders…
A 1992 memo from Whelan, referenced in a Consumer Reports expose, bemoans the loss of funding from Shell in a particularly revealing way:
“When one of the largest international petrochemical companies will not support ACSH, the great defender of petrochemical companies, one wonders who will.”
ACSH receives 76 percent of its funding from corporations and corporate funders, and 17 percent of its funding from private foundations, according to Congressional Quarterly’s Public Interest Profiles.
Some current and past ACSH corporate and foundation funders:
Allied Signals Foundation
American Meat Institute
Archer Daniels Midland
Ashland Oil Foundation
Boise Cascade Corp
Cooper Industries Foundation
Dow Chemical Canada
Ford Motor Co.
G. D. Searle Charitable Trust
Hershey Foods Corp Fund
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson’s Wax Fund
John M. Olin Foundation
Joseph E. Seagrams & Sons
Kraft General Foods
Merck Co Foundation
National Agricultural Chemicals Association
National Dairy Council
National Soft Drink Association
National Starch and Chemical Foundation
NutraSweet Co. (owned by Monsanto)
Oscar Mayer Foods
Procter & Gamble
Rohm & Haas
Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation
Sarah Scaife Foundation
The Schultz Foundation
Stroh Brewery Co
Sun Company, Inc
Union Carbide Corp.
Uniroyal Chemical Co.
Wine Growers of California
list source: National Environmental Trust
Subject: FW: Usana’s extrordinary views on Apartame (From Mark Gold)
From: Mark Gold
To: Alex Constantine
Subject: Re: Fwd: Usana’s extrordinary views on Apartame
The article that was sent out by Usana.com was apparently written by David Klurfeld, a scientific advisor to the American Council on Science & Health (ACSH) for his Nutrition News Focus newsletter. As you know, ACSH is an food and chemical industry created and funded public relations group … with an official-sounding name. Mr. Klurfeld my be well meaning, but it is painfully obvious that he had never actually read the scientific literature related to aspartame before he wrote that article in January, 1999. For example:
“HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All the published studies on the adverse effects of Aspartame indicate that, at worst, some people might experience headaches from it but controlled studies have not verified this.”
Even the most basic search of the scientific literature related to aspartame would turn up two controlled, double-blind studies showing aspartame causing headaches (including migraines) and a number of other controlled studies showing aspartame causing other (including more severe) health problems. I list most of those controlled studies published before Mr. Klurfeld’s article in the “Aspartame Texting on Humans” FAQ listed at:
Of course, that doesn’t even consider the recent research linking aspartame use to memory loss, fibromyalgia, and brain cancer.
Here is another statement that appears to come indirectly from Monsanto’s public relations mill:
“One of the claims in the Internet letter is that Aspartame generates methanol (wood alcohol). This is true, but the amount of methanol in a can of diet soda is considerably less than in a glass of orange or tomato juice and MUCH less than in a shot of liquor or a glass of wine. Small amounts of methanol are completely harmless — the danger is from consuming lots of the stuff the way some alcoholics have done, leading to blindness and death.”
It has been shown in several ways and many times that traditionally-eaten food substances such as fruit juice and wine has protective factors that prevent small amounts of methanol from causing chronic poisoning. For example, wine has large amounts of ethanol which prevents the conversion to formaldehyde to any significant extent. When Mr. Klurfeld wrote his article, he should have been well aware that animal research in Europe had shown that ingesting aspartame in relatively small amounts led to the acumulation of formaldehyde in the brain, liver, and other organs and tissues — well, he would have been aware of this had he read the research before publishing his article. Some of these issues have been
It just goes to show that one is much more likely to repeat corporate public relations if one doesn’t get their scientific information directly or indirectly from someone who is a) completely corporate independent, and 2) has read the scientific literature on aspartame and related issues. Statements such as this article sent from Usana which have no accuracy and typical Monsanto public relations-like statements are likely to upset many customers or soon-to-be-former customers. If they want to rely on experts, there are many statements from experts linked to at the bottom of a summary I wrote at:
—– Original Message —–
From: “Tech Serv US”
RE: The dangers of ASPARTAME ~ further info
The data on aspartame has been extensively reviewed by the FDA and has been found to be safe for use as a food additive. After more than three decades ….
American Council on Science and Health (ACSH)
Hiding a Lobby Behind a Name: Why Not Truth in Labeling For Interest Groups?
HOWARD KURTZ / Washington Post
THE PRESS RELEASES arrive in the mail nearly every day. The Committee for National Security. The Committee for an Effective Congress. The American Council on Science and Health. The Committee for Energy Awareness. The U.S.A. Foundation.
The names are patriotic-sounding, forward-looking, uplifting. And they all have something in common: They don’t tell you a heck of a lot about what the group stands for.
I may be a bit cynical, but it seems to me that we are entering an era of obfuscation – that the real powers in our society now prefer to stay in the background while these surrogate groups toil on their behalf. It gives their efforts a kind of objective sheen that pronouncements by chemical companies or drug manufacturers could never achieve. After all, who can quarrel with folks who call themselves the U.S.A. Foundation?
In the old days, things were simpler. The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO had their political action committees, the Democrats and Republicans their campaign arms, and it was clear who was fighting for what. But that was before all these committees, commissions, councils, societies, associations, foundations, federations and plain old lobbies multiplied like so many bunnies and burrowed into their downtown office cubicles.
These days, it seems that half the people in Washington no longer work for a living, but spend their time representing those who do. And even an avid fan can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
Take the Committee for Energy Awareness, which launched a $30- million advertising and lobbying campaign in 1983 to promote the safety of nuclear power. What its slick, low-key television ads failed to mention is that the group gets more than half its funding from 50 utilities, some of which have billed their unsuspecting customers for the media blitz.
These ads just wouldn’t have the same reassuring tone if the tag line had been: “Brought to you by America’s nuclear utilities, makers of Three Mile Island. Energy for a Brighter Tomorrow.”
According to internal committee documents, the publicity drive was to include “training and placement of independent energy experts on local radio and television talk shows in priority regions … letters to the editor by energy experts … (and) op-ed columns and other bylined articles by nuclear supporters outside the industry.” All of this was designed to “establish the credibility of CEA as more than a propaganda organization.”
Now it’s not exactly impossible for an enterprising reporter to find out who runs these nonprofit groups, which must meet at least some disclosure requirements. Some will even furnish a list of their contributors, although others are more secretive about their finances.
But these inquiries often are like peeling the layers of an onion. A group’s funding may come from other, equally obscure foundations. And the average viewer watching a commercial at home is hardly likely to investigate the sponsor’s financial ties.
Conservatives hardly have a monopoly on the committee industry; there is no shortage of liberal groups with long mailing lists and left-wing agendas. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, for example, puts out reports that are highly critical of President Reagan’s policies, and its useful to know that it’s run by a former Carter administration official. The Center for Science in the Public Interest spends much of its time attacking drug companies because they are the leading villains in its world.
But while these self-styled consumer groups may represent their own concept of the public interest – one perhaps shared by many unions and Democrats – they don’t appear to be fronting for specific financial interests like some of their counterparts on the right. And, at least in my experience, they tend to be more candid about their funding sources and political outlook.
Recently there has been a new public service ad that begins, “Stay tuned for a medical bulletin on Reye’s Syndrome.” The announcer assures us there’s no proof that any drug causes this potentially fatal disease in children. The sponsor is the Committee on the Care of Children.
Of course, the ad doesn’t say that health officials have been warning for two years that giving aspirin to certain sick children increases their chances of contracting Reye’s Syndrome. Nor does it mention that the Committee on the Care of Children was organized with aspirin-industry funding that was channeled through another group, the International Science Exchange. Federal officials recently called the ad “seriously misleading.”
This sort of subterfuge has spread to the realm of politics, where Voters for Joe Doa has been replaced by such fund-raising groups as Citizens for the Republic (Ronald Reagan’s PAC) and Committee for the Future of America (Walter Mondale’s). This was underscored during last October’s first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada, when nationwide ceremonies and campus rallies were sponsored by the U.S.A. Foundation.
A few phone calls revealed that U.S.A. Foundation chairman Jack Abramoff also happens to head the College Republican National Committee, and that other College Republicans were helping to stage the Grenada extravaganza. They insisted it was not designed to aid President Reagan’s reelection. This is not surprising, since the U.S.A. Foundation is what’s known in IRS jargon as a “501/C3” organization, meaning that its tax-exempt status can be yanked if it engages in partisan politics.
A spokesman for Abramoff explained the arrangement: “When he has his College Republican hat on, he’s partisan. When he has his U.S.A. hat on, he’s nonpartisan.”
No such identity crisis afflicts the American Council on Science and Health ( ACSH ), which bills itself as a conservative public-interest group. It issues a steady stream of reports contending that saccharin does not cause cancer, that the pesticide EDB is safe, that there is no proven link between heart disease and a diet high in fat and cholesterol.
At least a third of the group’s funding comes from food, chemical and petroleum companies – from Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical to Eli Lilly and Shell Oil – that have an interest in the products that ACSH keeps defending. But its director, Elizabeth M. Whelan, challenges the notion that her group is beholden to its financial backers.
“The perception among our enemies is that we’re speaking for industry,” Whelan said. “But we call it as we see it. The funding has nothing to do with it.”
This rationale seemed to evaporate, however, when the ACSH filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a 1982 lawsuit brought by the Formaldehyde Institute. The suit succeeded in overturning a federal ban on insulation made with formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.
It turns out that the ACSH ‘s legal brief was paid for by Georgia-Pacific Co., a leading manufacturer of formaldehyde and a member of the Formaldehyde Institute. Georgia- Pacific paid its Washington law firm $40,000 to write the 45-page brief, which ACSH then submitted under its name to a federal appeals court.
Maybe it’s not realistic to expect all these groups to be up front about what they really stand for. We shouldn’t have to spend half our time figuring out who’s fronting for whom. But I sure am tired of hearing the latest sugar-coated message from the Motherhood and Apple Pie Institute.