Filed Under: Food Police Food Scares

CSPI Wants a More Effective Scare Machine

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) must envy the power of “ick.” After years of calling fettucine alfredo a “heart attack on a plate,” saying soda would give us cancer, or alleging food dyes would give our kids ADHD and failing to scare people out of consuming those foods, CSPI apparently envies the power of grossness. As a Washington Post story notes today, the most effective weapon in the food police’s war on hamburger has been a sound-bite: “pink slime.”

And CSPI took notice. A CSPI lawyer told the Post, “If we could figure out the formula and apply it to serious public health issues, that would be amazing.” Of course, it wouldn’t be “amazing” for our taste buds—much less our sanity—if CSPI’s historical target list is any indication.

When it isn’t promoting unfounded cancer scares, CSPI too has attempted the “rebranding” strategy, calling soda “liquid candy” in an erroneous 1998 report (although the moniker probably made fizzy drinks more appealing, if anything). They tried to label tapioca “chemically modified food starch,” which also didn’t catch on.

And just as the “pink slime” scare may backfire (the lean beef trimmings are made less fatty and are misted to kill pathogens, which last time we checked were good things), so too can a CSPI “serious public health issue.” Lest we forget, it was CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter that claimed, “All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up” before CSPI changed its tune and branded the oils a killer.

We can imagine the lengths to which CSPI might go to replicate the “pink slime” formula. They could call colored coffee drinks “beetle juice,” but some angry vegans already beat them to that. They could try to call sodas “liquid cocaine.” Perhaps gyros meat will become “grey slime.” Will chocolate milkshakes become “brown goop” in CSPI press releases? Whatever “formula” CSPI tries, it’s probably best to consider their history and ignore the scaremongering.

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