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The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), formerly called the Guest Choice Network, is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) U.S. nonprofit organization.[1] The Center for Consumer Freedom files comprehensive annual reports with the IRS but does not publicly release its funding sources. The group states that it is "supported by restaurants, food companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals".[1][2] CCF describes its mission as defending the "right of adults and parents to choose what they eat, drink, and how they enjoy themselves." Stressing individual responsibility instead of over-reaching government legislation and regulation, CCF opposes compulsory warning labels on food, lawsuits against restaurants that sell fattening foods, and similar activities promoted by food activists. It runs media campaigns and bestows annual "Nanny Awards" to "those groups and individuals who would protect us from ourselves."[3]

CCF has campaigned against positions held by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Oceana. It operates a number of websites, such as ActivistCash.com, CSPIscam.com, PhysicianScam.com, FishScam.com and PetaKillsAnimals.com.

CCF has become outspoken in recent years about misleading statistics used by some nutrition activists to promote the notion of a global "obesity epidemic." In 2005, following a series of Freedom of Information Act requests from CCF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forced to publicly retract its claim that 400,000 Americans died each year as a consequence of being obese. The actual number was one-fifteenth the CDC's original estimate.

History Edit

The group was created in 1995 as the Guest Choice Network by Richard Berman, executive director of the public affairs firm Berman and Company, with $600,000 from the Philip Morris tobacco company.[2] The concept of the group, according to a letter by Richard Berman to Barbara Trach, who at the time was Philip Morris's senior program manager for public affairs, was "to unite the restaurant and hospitality industries in a campaign to defend their consumers and marketing programs against attacks from anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-meat, etc. activists ..." Its purpose, according to a planning document by Berman, was to encourage operators of "restaurants, hotels, casinos, bowling alleys, taverns, stadiums, and university hospitality educators" to "support [the] mentality of 'smokers rights' by encouraging responsibility to protect 'guest choice'."[4] Internal documents from Philip Morris reveal that it donated $2,950,000 to the Guest Choice Network between 1995 and 1998.[5]

The supporters list as of December 1996 included Alliance Gaming (slot machines), Anheuser-Busch (beer), Bruss Company (steaks and chops), Cargill Processed Meat Products, Davidoff (cigars), Harrah's (casinos), Overhill Farms (frozen foods), Philip Morris, and Standard Meat Company (steaks). The group's Advisory Panel comprised representatives from most of these companies, plus further representatives from the restaurant industry, Senator George McGovern, and Carl Vogt of law firm Fulbright and Jaworski.[6]

The Guest Choice Network issued newsletters, arguing for the right of restaurant owners to maintain separate, ventilated smoking sections. It also argued against food-related attacks from environmental, animal rights, and anti-alcohol organizations,[7] PETA and straightedgers.[8]

In November 2001, the Guest Choice Network expanded its criticism of activist groups, with the launch of a separate web site, ActivistCash.com, which is a compilation of information gathered from IRS documents and media reports, describing the funding and activities of animal rights, anti-corporate, and environmental activist groups.

In January 2002 the Guest Choice Network became the Center for Consumer Freedom, a move the group said reflected that "the anti-consumer forces [were] expanding their reach beyond restaurants and taverns [and] going into your communities and even your homes," so a broader organization was needed to expose these alleged forces "wherever they try to take away your Consumer Freedom".[9]

ActivitiesEdit

File:Peta AIDS.jpg

The group defines its mission as fighting against "a growing cabal of food cops, health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats, and violent radicals who think they know what's best for you, [who] are pushing against our basic freedoms."[1]

CCF has argued against smoking bans, for retaining the permissible driving blood-alcohol level at 0.10, and questions the heavily debated dangers of red meat consumption, and pesticides.[10][11][12][13]

In a 1999 interview with the Chain Leader, a trade publication for restaurant chains, CCF co-founder Richard Berman said that he attacks activists more aggressively than other public-affairs professionals. "We always have a knife in our teeth", he said. Since activists "drive consumer behavior on meat, alcohol, fat, sugar, tobacco and caffeine", his strategy is "to attack their credibility as spokespersons."[14]

In a May 11, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article, CCF spokesman John Doyle responded to questions about nationwide radio ads put out by the group. He said the ads were meant to attract people to their website and "draw attention to our enemies: just about every consumer and environmental group, chef, legislator or doctor who raises objections to things like pesticide use, genetic engineering of crops or antibiotic use in beef and poultry."[15]

CCF is opposed to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a controversial animal rights organization. It publishes the website PetaKillsAnimals.com, which according to the site has an aim to "stand up to malicious animal-rights activists ... who claim to 'know what's best' for you."[16] The website has documents showing that PETA euthanizes most of the animals in its care,[17] and features news that portrays its staff and leaders in a negative light. The CCF has also produced anti-PETA advertising and performed publicity stunts outside PETA meetings.[18]

CCF has posted a number of videos to YouTube as part of its activities.[19] It posted the trailer for children's movie Charlotte's Web, claiming that the movie 'encourages kids to "Say no to bacon" and print out stickers reading "Tofu Rulez"', and links to groups it claims are "extremist", such as the Humane Society of the United States. [20]

ActivistCash.comEdit

The Center for Consumer Freedom runs ActivistCash.com, a website which "provides the public and media with in-depth profiles of anti-consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of what is called their exorbitant funding." The site features generally negative profiles of various groups it believes oppose consumer freedom, such as Greenpeace, PETA, and the Environmental Working Group. It also documents key figures in activism and celebrity links with the various groups.

The site reports what it claims are links between profiled groups and extremism, and in general argues that the groups profiled hold extreme views that are contrary to the public interest. It has examined 525,000 IRS documents in its profiling, listing for each group major donors, income and expenditure, key supporters and connections with other groups.

MercuryFacts.comEdit

The Center for Consumer Freedom operates [1], a website which contains a mercury calculator which offers the amount of a fish you can eat before getting an unsafe dose of mercury, based on an adjusted Reference Dose from the EPA, which the EPA then cut to a tenth before publishing. Thus the amounts are 10 times the amount the EPA would recommend.

FishScam.comEdit

The Center for Consumer Freedom runs FishScam.com, a website which claims that "our bodies contain harmless amounts of chemicals, including mercury that could be fatal in higher doses." The site contains a mercury calculator which offers the amount of a fish you can eat before getting an unsafe dose of mercury, based on what they claim was the original reference level for the EPA, which the EPA then cut to a tenth before publishing. Thus the amounts are 10 times the amount the EPA would recommend.

Other DomainsEdit

The Center for Consumer Freedom also runs a number of other websites, including PetaKillsAnimals.com, PhysicianScam.com, Trans-FatFacts.com, AnimalScam.com, ObesityMyths.com, and CSPIScam.com.

Funding Edit

The CCF does not disclose the identity of its funders. However, some information is available, as CCF is registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, and accordingly financial information is disclosed via IRS Form 990s.

Initial funding for the Guest Choice Network organisation came from Philip Morris, with the initial donation of $600,000 followed by a $300,000 donation the following year. "As of this writing, PM USA is still the only contributor, though Berman continues to promise others any day now", wrote Philip Morris attorney Marty Barrington in an internal company memorandum dated March 28, 1996.[21]

In subsequent years, GCN acquired more donors, but was still almost solely funded by a few large corporations: the IRS Form 990 for the six-month period from July to December 1999 shows that is income for that period was $111,642, of which $105,000 came from six unnamed donors.

Form 990s for the Center for Consumer Freedom are available for years 2002-2004 on the GuideStar website.[22][23][24] For the last available year, 2004, revenues were $3.6 million, while expenses reached $3.25 million.

As of 2005 the group now claims over 1000 individual supporters, and solicits individual donations on its website.[1]

According to Berman, in June 2005, the group had about 100 corporate supporters [25].

Domain name disputes Edit

CCF has created sites with similar domain names to organizations it opposes.

In January 2002 after a complaint, CCF, which had registered the domain name cspinet.com, was ordered to transfer it to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.[26]

Also in January 2002, CCF had to turn over the domain name chefscollaborative.info to the rightful owner of the Chefs Collaborative mark.[27]

The Center for Consumer Freedom registered two domain names, cspinot.com and smartmouth.org, similar to those used by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In October 2002, CSPI filed a complaint which was upheld and the two domain names were transferred to the CSPI.[28][29]

Corporate SponsorsEdit

Companies that have publicly acknowledged making donations to CCF include: Coca-Cola; Wendy's; Tyson Foods; and Pilgrim's Pride. [2][25][30]

Personnel Edit

DirectorsEdit

The latest available IRS Form 990, for the 2004 calendar year, lists directors as Richard Berman, Jacob Dweck, David Browne, Lane Cardwell, and John Doyle as Secretary and Treasurer. All received nominal $250 salaries, except Berman, who received $18,000.

John Doyle is also Senior vice President of Berman & Co

Other representativesEdit

In addition to these officers, several Berman & Co. employees and associates have appeared in news stories as CCF representatives:

  • David Martosko has been described in news stories as CCF's director of research. Martosko primarily discusses animal rights-related issues with the media.[31]
  • Justin Wilson is cited as a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom. Wilson primarily works on obesity and trans-fat related campaigns for the CCF. He has appeared multiple times on television networks including CNBC to debate the issue of "trans-fats bans".[32][33]

Affiliated organizations Edit

In addition to the Center for Consumer Freedom, Berman and Company manages several other nonprofit organizations, including the Employment Policies Institute, which argues that increases in the cost of doing business in the United States, such as minimum wage increases and mandatory health insurance for workers, result in higher unemployment; and the American Beverage Institute, a trade association for restaurants that serve alcohol. ABI argues that the focus of regulators and lawmakers should be on preventing truly drunk driving, rather than forbidding any amount of drinking before driving.

Criticism Edit

The Center for Consumer Freedom has drawn criticism from several groups for its startup funding from the Philip Morris tobacco company, for its efforts to portray groups such as the Humane Society of the United States as "violent" and "extreme", and for its opposition to banning the use of trans fats.[34][35][36][37][38] The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has also questioned the CCF's validity as a non-profit tax exempt lobby group.[39]

The Center for Consumer Freedom responds by stating that they "file regular [tax] statements with the Internal Revenue Service, which are open to public inspection."[1] In addition, the CCF cites the concern from the American Heart Association that banning trans fats could lead to the "use of oils high in saturated or animal-based fat if healthier oils are in short supply."[40]

The group has been criticized by some corporations, with PepsiCo and Kraft Foods both saying they do not agree with CCF's approach.[25] A spokesman for Kraft Foods said that "we feel we have a responsibility to address consumers' concerns over obesity", he added, "so we're responding by reformulating many of our products, providing more product information, creating smaller sizes and adjusting our marketing practices." Berman responded saying that this approach is "appeasement". "You can't accommodate" the CSPI, "They're not going away. If you create some healthier products, they'll go after all the unhealthy ones you still make."

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "About Us", Center for Consumer Freedom, retrieved January 29, 2007
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Mayer, Caroline E. & Joyce, Amy. "The Escalating Obesity Wars Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy", The Washington Post, April 27, 2005.
  3. "Food for Thought", Center for Consumer Freedom, February 10, 2000.
  4. PR Watch: Letter from Rick Berman to Barbara Trach, April 11, 1995
  5. "Documented Donations of $2,950,000 from Philip Morris to Rick Berman/CCF", Consumerdeception.com, retrieved January 29, 2007
  6. The Guest Choice Network Supporters; The Guest Choice Network Advisory Panel, December 1, 1996
  7. Guest Choice Network Volume 3, Number 11 1998
  8. Guest Choice Network Undated
  9. Guest Choice Network January 24, 2002
  10. Berman, Rick. “Food Cops Run Amok” Food Arts Magazine, June 1, 1998. Retrieved on January 29, 2007.
  11. “Don't Even Think About Having A Drink” Center for Consumer Freedom, October 2, 2001. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  12. “Latest Anti-Meat Study: The Real Story” Center for Consumer Freedom, January 12, 2005. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  13. “Scientists Denounce Scaremongering Activists” Center for Consumer Freedom, September 20, 2005. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  14. Bernstein, Charles. 1999. "The Zealot". Chain Leader, December. Retrieved May 4m 2001 by archive.org.
  15. Ness, Carol. "Hand that feed bites back: Food industry forks over ad campaign to win hearts, stomachs" San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 2002. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  16. About Us: Peta Kills Animals
  17. Peta Kills Animals: Peta's Dirty Secret
  18. Center for Consumer Freedom. 2003. "Anti-PETA Ads Win Popular Acclaim". December 12. Retrieved 2007 February 12.
  19. YouTube video channel for the Center for Consumer Freedom
  20. "Charlotte's (Tangled) Web" Center for Consumer Freedom, December 7, 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  21. PR Watch: Letter from Philip Morris attorney Marty Barrington citing initial funding for the CCF PR Watch, retrieved January 30, 2007.
  22. 2002 IRS Form 990 for the Center for Consumer Freedom. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  23. 2003 IRS Form 990 for the Center for Consumer Freedom. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  24. 2004 IRS Form 990 for the Center for Consumer Freedom. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Warner, Melanie. "Striking Back at the Food Police". New York Times. June 12, 2005. Retrieved on February 11, 2007.
  26. "Center for Science in the Public Interest v. Guest Choice Network - Case No. 102524" National Arbitration Forum. January 2, 2002. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  27. "Chefs Collaborative v. Guest Choice Network - Case No. 102484" National Arbitration Forum. January 16, 2002. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  28. "Center for Science in the Public Interest v. Guest Choice Network - Case No. 128796" National Arbitration Forum. January 6, 2003. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  29. "Bogus 'Consumer' Group Stripped Of Domain Names." Center for Science in the Public Interest. February 20, 2003. Retrieved January 30, 2007.
  30. Barton, Paul. "Poultry firms side with lobbyist in PR battle with animal-welfare group." Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. September 22, 2003. Retrieved on February 12, 2007.
  31. Matthews, Mark. "Lobbyists Hide Behind Non-Profit Fronts." KGO-TV/ABC 7, San Francisco, May 3, 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  32. "National Full-Page Ads Ask New York: “What’s Next?”" Center for Consumer Freedom, December 7, 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  33. "CNBC Debate: Justin Wilson of the CCF vs. Stephen Joseph of BanTransFats.com" YouTube, retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  34. No-smoke.org: Center for Consumer Freedom. Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  35. Unti, Bernard. "Center for Consumer Freedom: Non-Profit or Corporate Shill?" Humane Society of the United States. July 1, 2005. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  36. trans-fat FACTS.com Center for Consumer Freedom. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  37. Lamb, Gregory M. "Lead paint, cigarettes: Are trans fats next?" The Christian Science Monitor. October 12, 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  38. PR Watch: "Trans Fat Spin Doctors Chart Legislative Risks" PR Watch. December 19, 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  39. "CREW Files IRS Complaint Against The Center for Consumer Freedom Alleging Violations of Tax Exempt Status". Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. November 16, 2004. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.
  40. "Heart Doctors Take On NYC Trans Fat Ban" Center for Consumer Freedom. November 15, 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2007.

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