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American Council on Science and Health—Are You Making Health Decisions Based on What This Industry Front Group Says?

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Story at-a-glance -

  • There are many dozens of industry front groups masquerading as independent information organizations
  • The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) claims to be an independent research and advocacy organization consisting of “concerned scientists” who are devoted to debunking "junk science"
  • The ACSH has defended everything from fracking to pesticides, bisphenol-A (BPA), and genetically engineered foods
  • ACSH Board of Trustees is filled with people who have direct connections to biotech, pesticide, tobacco, vaccines, and junk food industry-related entities
  • According to the Better Business Bureau, the ACSH does not meet standards for accountability. Questionable practices includes “Insufficient evidence of materials that are accurate, truthful and not misleading”

By Dr. Mercola

There are many dozens of industry front groups masquerading as independent information organizations. I've previously published information about several of them, including the International Food Additives Council (IFAC), the Coalition Against Costly Food Labeling Proposition, the Science Media Centre, and Alliance to Feed the Future.

Michele Simon, JD, MPH, policy consultant with Center for Food Safety has also published a report titled: "Best Public Relations Money Can Buy: A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups,"1 which reveals how the food and agricultural industry hide behind friendly-sounding organizations aimed at fooling the public, policymakers, and the media.

Institute for Science in Medicine2 is yet another example worth mentioning. Once you start to look at them more closely, you’ll find that most of these repetitive front groups “in the name of science” lead back to the same people... and the industry science they espouse is very much like a new religion—one that does not tolerate others beliefs.

Here, the focus will rest on the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). A previous Mother Jones3 article spilled the beans on who's actually funding this pro-industry science group, which defends everything from fracking to pesticides, the toxic plastic ingredient bisphenol-A (BPA), and genetically engineered foods—all in the name of quenching unwarranted fear mongering by those who don't understand the science.

The ACSH claims to be an independent research and advocacy organization consisting of "concerned scientists" who are devoted to debunking "junk science." But once you understand who this front group really serves, it becomes easy to see why the scientific basis for the ACSH's recommendations may be questionable at best. As reported by the featured article:

"[I]nternal financial documents (read them here)... show that ACSH depends heavily on funding from corporations that have a financial stake in the scientific debates it aims to shape...

According to the ACSH documents, from July 1, 2012, to December 20, 2012, 58 percent of donations to the council came from corporations and large private foundations. ACSH's donors and the potential backers the group has been targeting comprise a who's-who of energy, agriculture, cosmetics, food, soda, chemical, pharmaceutical, and tobacco corporations."

Funding Is FAR from Irrelevant to Scientific Investigation!

Despite everything we know about how the source of funding alters the outcome of any scientific investigation, the ACSH claims that "the sources of our support are irrelevant to our scientific investigations," and that this is why the group does not publicize its donors. However, the group didn't stop listing its donors until the public denounced it as a front group for manufacturers in the 1990s...

Its executive director, Dr. Gilbert Ross—who by the way served 23 months in jail after being convicted for defrauding the NY state's Medicaid program of about $8 million—told Mother Jones: "Only science-based facts hold sway in our publications, even if the outcome is not pleasing to our contributors."

Aside from the issue of Dr. Ross's questionable character, it is highly doubtful that this would be true, as numerous studies have documented the overwhelming influence funding entities have over research outcomes. For example:

  • In 2010, three researchers from Harvard and Toronto identified all the published trials for five major classes of drugs, and then measured two key features: Were they positive, and were they funded by industry? Out of a total of 500 trials, 85 percent of the industry-funded studies were positive, compared to 50 percent of the government-funded trials
  • In 2007, researchers identified all published trials of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. A total of 192 trials were found in which either two statins were compared to each other, or a statin was compared against a different kind of treatment. Industry-funded studies were 20 times more likely to favor the test drug, compared to those with independent funding
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Who's Paying for the ACSH's Research and 'Fact-Based Opinions'?

Scientific fraud and/or the misuse of science to further a preconceived commercial agenda is so rampant today that it can be quite tricky to determine what's what. One key factor, it turns out, is to determine who paid for the research. Knowing that, let's take a look at who's shaping the "fact-based" opinions of the ACSH.

First, the ACSH Board of Trustees offers interesting clues. It's filled with people who have direct connections to biotech, pesticide, tobacco, vaccines, and junk food industry-related entities.

Many of them either have personally worked with genetically modified organisms, or support Monsanto/DuPont, etc., openly. Several of them also have key positions that would favor the GMO and vaccine industries. One of the most recognizable individuals on this list is Dr. Paul Offit.

The ACSH also lists Stephen Barrett4 and Timothy N. Gorski of Quackbusters5 as members of its Scientific Board of Advisors for its 2009 report "Adult Immunization: The Need for Enhanced Utilization".6

This places Paul Offit in connection with Quackbusters, a group of self-proclaimed skeptics of any and all non-conventional or alternative healing modalities (regardless of the available evidence in the scientific literature). And that's in addition to his being on the board of trustees of this poorly disguised industry-front group—hardly a smart move for anyone interested in maintaining credibility at this point. Another individual on the ACSH board of trustees is pro-GMO advocate Henry Miller, who also founded the FDA Office of Biotechnology.7 His deceptive PR tactics during the California GMO labeling campaign have been discussed in previous articles.

Miller also supported the now defunct Advancement of Sound Science Coalition,8 which was formed to support the tobacco industry by discrediting claims that smoke is harmful. The group also advanced other industry-friendly positions on a wide range of topics, including global warming, phthalates, and pesticides. The US Department of Agriculture is also linked to ACSH through David Klurfeld,9 another of its scientific advisors on adult vaccinations, who also serves as the National Program Leader for Human Nutrition in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of USDA.10 Then there are the donors, which include but are not limited to the following, reported by Mother Jones. (Another much longer list also shows up on,11 where ACSH filed an annual report in 1984.)

Chevron Coca-Cola and Pepsi Bristol Myers Squibb Dr. Pepper/Snapple Bayer Cropscience
Procter and Gamble Syngenta 3M McDonald's Altria (a tobacco conglomerate)
Phillip Morris Monsanto British American Tobacco DowAgro Exxon Mobil

When Money Talks, Toxins Become 'Proven Safe'

As reported by Mother Jones, ACSH has gone to bat time and again for its donors, offering supporting evidence when industry profits were threatened. For example, funding from Georgia-Pacific, a leading formaldehyde maker, helped the ACSH file a lawsuit that overturned a ban on formaldehyde insulation. The group has also gone on record stating that fracking "doesn't pollute water or air." A couple of other examples offered by Mother Jones:

"ACSH defended the chemical Alar, used to regulate the growth of apples—and accepted donations from Uniroyal, which manufactured and sold Alar. It also opposed new mandatory nutrition labeling requirements—and pocketed money from Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg Co., Nestle USA, and the National Soft Drink Association."

Such blatant conflicts of interest used to be frowned upon, but have now become so common that many fail to realize just how dangerous that can be. In the end, when conflicts of interest are allowed to permeate research and scientific discussions, you end up with false science, or science created to support a financially rewarding agenda, and that's precisely where we are today.12

The health of the entire planet is now in serious jeopardy because "science" funded by serious conflicts of interest has become accepted as fact. The status quo is quite literally killing us, and the environment. Those who deliver evidence of the dangers of agricultural chemicals, genetically engineered foods, excessive vaccinations, processed junk foods and so on are written off as imbeciles. Researchers whose findings contradict the industry-established status quo typically lose their jobs. But as dangerous as it is for those who try to tell you the truth about these environmental dangers, YOU are the one at greatest risk here, because without this information, you end up lining the pockets of greedy corporations who are quite literally killing you slowly...

ACSH Fails to Meet Better Business Bureau's Standards, Year After Year...

According to the Better Business Bureau13 (BBB), the ACSH, a 501(c)(3), does not meet the BBB's standards for non-profit accountability. Questionable practices include:

  • Insufficient board oversight
  • Insufficient numbers of board meetings
  • Lack of an annual report of activities
  • Insufficient evidence of materials that are accurate, truthful and not misleading

In 1982, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog and consumer advocacy group, published an extensive report on ACSH's practices, stating that: "ACSH appears to be a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. Through voodoo or alchemy, bodies of scientific knowledge are transmogrified into industry-oriented position statements."

CSPI director Michael F. Jacobson said of ACSH, "This organization promotes confusion among consumers about what is safe and what isn't... ACSH is using a slick scientific veneer to obscure and deny truths that virtually everyone else agrees with." The CSPI's article, titled "Twisted Consumerism: The Golden Assurance of the American Council on Science and Health,"14 is a startling expose, in which the ACSH is exposed as NOT being the benign truth-delivering organization it pretends to be.

Science Media Centre—Busted!

To finish off, I want to briefly mention the Science Media Centre, as I just realized they've been busted... In September 2012, a French GMO feeding study was published in Reed Elsevier's peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology.15 It was the first-ever lifetime feeding study evaluating the health risks of genetically engineered foods, and results were troubling, to say the least—and a major stumbling block for the chemical biotechnology industry.

The study found that rats fed a type of genetically engineered corn that is prevalent in the US food supply developed massive mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage, and other serious health problems, about halfway through their natural life. The Science Media Centre immediately pounced16, 17 on the findings, claiming there were "anomalies throughout the paper."

However, we now know that not only had the study undergone the usual peer review process, it was actually reviewed by twice the typical number of referees prior to publication (I would presume probably because of its explosive ramifications). But that's not all. In November 2013, the publisher made the controversial decision to retract the study.

What's noteworthy here is that after publication and the resulting outcry from industry, the publisher completed a year-long investigation and found "no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data." So, if after all that investigative work, NO "anomalies" could be found that would negate the findings, why isn't the media exposing the Science Media Centre's hasty declarations? In hindsight, we see that they were clearly wrong. Where are all these anomalies that no one else was able to find during a year-long exhaustive review (on top of all the pre-publication reviews)? In the end, the ONLY cause the publisher could come up with for retracting the study was that the findings were "inconclusive," which is not even a valid cause for retraction!

The entire affair ended up exploding in Elsevier's proverbial face. The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility has called the retraction "a travesty of science" that "looks like a bow to industry," and a group of scientists have drafted an open letter18 requesting Elsevier reverse its retraction of the Séralini paper, and to issue a public apology to the authors. The Science Media Centre certainly achieved its mission to spread distrust and confusion about the results of this important study however. And that is the best these front groups can ever achieve... if you let them.

Chose Your Sources Wisely

You can bet that if there's a harmful substance out there that makes money, there are at least one or more front groups, posing as independent non-profit organizations, disseminating anything but independent safety reviews and information pertaining to it. It's high time to pull back the curtain and see who's really pulling the strings and levers.

I hope you will support not only this web site by reading and sharing what you learn here with others, but also any number of other health journalists reporting the results of research that Big Business would rather you didn't know. Right now, we're nearing the tipping point when it comes to genetically engineered (GE) foods. Many Americans have woken up to this issue in the past couple of years, and it's more important than ever to remember to vote with your wallet. Make conscious decisions, and above all, let your representatives know where you stand on labeling of GE foods.