Let’s Ask Marion: Why Is The Center For Consumer Freedom Touting Tainted Tuna?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Now that everybody’s in a panic about mercury-marinated tuna, the fish industry’s frantically trying to persuade consumers that a little mercury in our sushi shouldn’t set our temperatures rising. Their mouthpiece, The Center For Consumer Freedom, insists there’s no cause for concern because the FDA’s "action level" for methylmercury “includes a generous ten-fold safety cushion.”

Those who dare dispute this—Newsweek and yourself included—are being hectored by the CCF’s director of research, David Martosko, who insists that mercury-laced tuna is perfectly safe but denies he’s doing so on behalf of the seafood industry. Why would a supposedly grassroots consumer group be so hellbent on convincing consumers that we needn’t worry about toxic tuna?

Dr. Nestle: As someone on the current hit list for the so-called Center for Consumer Freedom, I can sympathize with your question. The CCF is nothing but an"Astroturf" public relations firm. It started out working for cigarette companies and now works for food and restaurant trade associations. Two things are especially troubling about its mode of operation: its secrecy and its tactics.

Let's start with the secrecy. Somehow, CCF is set up in a way that does not require disclosure of funding sources. Mr. Martosko's denial of my guess that some tuna association funds his work cuts right to that issue. According to Source Watch's entry on the group, when asked in 2006 about whether the seafood industry funded the mercury campaign, Mr. Martosko said: "it's not my job to know. I really don't pay attention. I do know that the vast majority of our, say, institutional funding, comes from the food sector. Beyond that, I just don't know."

Source Watch, however, lists several seafood industry groups that contribute to CCF. I do not see any specifically tuna groups on this list but it is easy to imagine that tuna groups might contribute to the seafood sponsors, even if they don't fund CCF directly.

And that brings me to the tactics. Industry groups that would not be caught dead behaving the way CCF does can secretly fund the group and hide behind it. CCF's standard operating style is attack dog. It bullies its targets (as Mr. Martosko did in his threatening messages to me on Tuesday), ridicules us, and attacks us on personal grounds. In my personal experience with CCF, in which I have been bullied, ridiculed, and stalked, the specifics have nothing to do with the science or health issues and everything to do with personal attacks or protection of its food industry sponsors.

Intelligent people may disagree about the science of methylmercury hazards, especially for non-pregnant adults, but one point is clear. Methylmercury is unlikely to be good for anyone and the less of it in our food, the better. If CCF and its seafood industry supporters really were interested in the health of the American public, they would be lobbying like mad to get Congress to insist that coal-burning power plants clean up their emissions so mercury from those plants does not get into fish in the first place.

One-sided screed

If you're at all interested in presenting both sides of this debate, I can be reached at:

martosko (at) ConsumerFreedom (dot) com.

CCF

The tactics of CCF and their supporters sound very much akin to the "swift-boaters" of a few years back.

Great story! It's important

Great story! It's important to alert people to what the CCF really is.