About a year ago, I wrote this diary on Daily Kos, about Richard Berman, the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization that fights for your right to eat, drink and do what you wish to do without learning that there might be consequences involved with eating too many Hardee’s Thickburgers or driving while intoxicated. He was being profiled on 60 Minutes and I wanted to let people know a little more about Berman and his organization.
I was just informed of his new site, Sun Light Scam, sponsored by the Indoor Tanning Association and decided to repost my piece from last year:
If you’re familiar with Richard Berman, you know that he is the Excecutive Director for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a 501(c)3 that states its mission is: “Research and education on food, beverage and lifestyle issues.”
That sounds reasonable enough, I think. Who could be against any organization that is providing research on education on food, beverage and lifestyle issues?
Certainly not me.
From the CBS website:
Unlike the villain in the Austin Powers spy-spoof films, this “Dr. Evil” — a.k.a. Washington lobbyist Rick Berman — doesn’t disappear when movie credits roll. He’s a constant gadfly to other lobbyists and do-gooders who label him evil for taking money from corporations to fight causes like animal rights, healthy food, labor unions — even Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Through non-profit educational entities that corporations contribute to, Berman creates commercials that attack groups whose messages can harm the interests of those corporations. For example, one commercial, under the Center for Consumer Freedom label, shows a child whose ice cream is taken away and adults whose food and drink are likewise snatched. “Everywhere you turn, someone is telling us what we can’t eat … Find out who’s driving the food police,” explains the voiceover.
A quick look around The Center’s website can give you a pretty clear idea what this guy is about.
For example, this article celebrates our nation’s independence day by informing us that our founding fathers were a bunch of gluttons and drunks who would be appalled by campaigns to try to teach people how to eat a little more healthfully.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Stick these Founding factoids in your cap:
Thomas Jefferson served French fries at the White House and is credited with introducing vanilla ice cream to the United States.
It’s no accident that a brand of ice cream was named after James Madison’s wife Dolly, who was known for serving the treat to her guests.
People often ate more than 5,000 calories a day, washing their beef and pork-heavy diets down with plenty of wine, beer, and spirits.
In the world of food cops, the Founders would have been shackled in the stockade. Meanwhile, groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest continue the long tradition of Prohibitionist attempts to control the consumption of adult beverages. But consider the responsible use of alcohol during the Revolutionary period:
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington made sure his troops received a quart of beer each day.
Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence while downing pints at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia.
New York’s first City Hall was located at a tavern.
Washington, Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all enjoyed brewing or distilling their own adult beverages.
So beware of dietary Puritans and their war on personal responsibility. Though they have yet to make it official, their independence from common sense was declared long ago. How can you help prevent food cops from putting you through a culinary crucible? Add your John Hancock to our Declaration of Food Independence now!
In this piece from the Tarnished Halo awards, Berman and the Center reveal some borderline racism in their attack on Al Sharpton:
The “Reverend Rooster” Category
Awarded to Al Sharpton, the publicity-seeking preacher, for joining PETA to crow at KFC restaurants and attempting to instigate a boycott from the African American community. It’s odd that Sharpton would stand side-by-side with PETA, which advocates a complete end to chicken consumption. When the reverend emerged from prison in 2001 after a four-week hunger strike, he didn’t ask for tofu and lentils. He told a crowd of well-wishers: “I’m going to walk through Harlem just to settle in again, then I’m going to Amy Ruth’s for some fried chicken.” That restaurant’s menu carries a dish named after Sharpton—it’s chicken and waffles.
Most every page on his site is pretty ludicrous, as are some of the other web sites Berman sponsors.
USA Today wrote this about Berman:
WASHINGTON — A longtime labor union official calls him Dr. Evil. The director of a consumer group says he’s “sleazy” and “sophomoric.” And a liberal newspaper columnist wrote that the tobacco, booze and gun lobbyists portrayed in the movie Thank You for Smoking were a “pale imitation of the reality of the Beltway’s most outrageous advocate.”
The same article reports:
Berman’s latest campaign, launched this week, goes after labor unions with TV commercials and full-page ads in newspapers, including USA TODAY. It may prove as incendiary as one in May, paid for by Berman’s Center for Union Facts, that accused labor unions of discriminating against minorities and bankrupting industries. He targets labor unions because, he says, they intimidate workers to get them to join.
“Somebody’s wasting a lot of money,” says Stewart Acuff, the AFL-CIO’s national director of organizing. “This guy is just another tool of right-wing anti-worker forces. The ads have been an attempt to create a negative impression, but for the amount of money spent on them they are remarkably poor.”
Berman spent the last couple of years fighting obesity-focused trial lawyers and consumer groups who have succeeded in getting trans fats out of many foods and soft-drink machines out of schools — the latter a move he finds ludicrous because high-calorie juice is allowed and diet drinks aren’t.
Last year, after Berman openly criticized the government’s numbers, the Centers for Disease Control lowered the estimate of the annual number of deaths attributable to obesity from 400,000 to less than 26,000.
Currently, he’s predicting that when they’re done with fat, the food-safety groups will focus more on demonizing caffeine. And MADD, he says, won’t be happy until there is a breathalyzer in every car and social drinkers are scared into public sobriety.
Berman states that his nonprofit have not benefitted him personally, but if you look up the Center for Consumer Freedom on GuideStar, you’ll learn that Berman made only around $18,000 for his direct work with the Center, but for some reason, Berman’s organization Berman and Company was paid $1.6 million by the Center. I wonder what percentage of that $1.6 million went directly to Berman….maybe all of it?
Who is funding the Center?
We don’t know. From the Center’s site:
Many of the companies and individuals who support the Center financially have indicated that they want anonymity as contributors. They are reasonably apprehensive about privacy and safety in light of the violence some activist groups have adopted as a “game plan” to impose their views.
So in other words, we don’t know who is funding them, but we have a pretty good idea that it’s the fast food and alcohol companies.
And the artificial tanning industry.