A mysterious nonprofit made millions suing companies to put California cancer warnings on coffee

Christ, what assholes.

Non profits just mean that they don’t make a profit

There are also regulations about where your financial support comes from…a certain percentage has to be from the public, not from private interests; & a certain percentage of that has to be individual donations, not a lump sum from some interested party. If you can’t show that support in your tax returns you lose your non-profit status. Of course if you hire an expensive tax attorney that can all be dealt with…but the principle is that you can’t just take a chunk of your own money to form a non-profit with yourself at the head, & thus avoid taxes.

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This. Prop 65 standards are extremely stringent (*) and honestly coffee obviously was covered by the rules as written. I don’t understand why Starbucks et al. chose to fight this rather than just put the warning label up. It isn’t like anyone would notice – those things are everywhere.

(*) except when they aren’t. “Naturally occurring” carcinogens such as arsenic in some fruits are not included even when the levels are much higher than those same compounds that result from human processing.

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For that, you need religion.


How is this not considered a conflict of interest?


It is! Hence the problem.

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This reaction is critical to tasty meat dishes!

This non-profit truly stinks. New database to search non-profits from all sorts of angles:

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The fact that the investigation into this secret cabal of officers reveals actors and humanities professors, and not corporate lobbyists, makes me think that maybe the creepiness is being exaggerated here.

The thing they’re being accused of is sometimes called a “bounty hunting scheme”, and maybe that is what they are, but it is also possible that they are simply a group of academics who genuinely believe acrylamide is a dangerous carcinogen and are doing what they can to reduce it and get funding for further research. There is apparently good science on both sides of the acrylamide question, and it is reasonable as a default to assume the scientists on both sides believe in their methods and results.

Funding advocacy through lawsuits has become part of the environmental nonprofit’s playbook, and is a reasonable strategy when the other side can get their funding from large corporations.

As happy as I am that the end result is no ban on coffee and other foodstuffs with acrylamide, I think bans on toxic chemicals have a legitimate place in the law.

You have a point, but they are hiding the very clear conflict of interest. Not exactly the behavior of well-meaning academics.

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I’m not sure how serious that conflict is. Of course he should have disclosed his long connection to CERT to the court, but we don’t know at this point that he did not. Meanwhile, any expert working for one side in a case has a fiduciary connection to that side, as they are being paid at least for their time.

I think this is a story in search of a gasp.

Everything described is consistent with a bent scientist distorting the truth in order to maintain a revenue source. It is also consistent with a dedicated scientist trying to continue research into something she perceives as a genuine risk. The good news is that the money is coming from large corporations with deep pockets, who should be funding research into the safety of the products they are selling.

Don’t think so.

There is nothing here about any research showing actual harm to actual humans drinking actual coffee. It all seems to be about technical compliance with a bad law enacted approved by scientifically ignorant legislators voters.

(Edit - sorry about the oxymoron at the end of that last sentence)

(Edit #2 - it’s come to my awareness that this was actually a ballot initiative. I have corrected the post. And I apologize to the legislators of California.)


There is plenty of evidence that acrylamide is linked to cancer (cf my link above to the National Cancer Institute in the NIH). What we don’t yet have is strong enough evidence of the dangers of human ingestion to warrant a ban in food.

There’s a pretty big difference. If Smith is, in fact, a stakeholder or officer in the organization, he is effectively the plaintiff. That’s dramatically different from serving as an expert witness and being compensated for it.

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If the issue is potential bias, then I don’t think it is a huge difference. An expert witness for the plaintiff has responsibility to the plaintiff.

In this case what we have is a senior, respected scientist at one of our best public universities who, with a few colleagues, has formed an organization to take on industries that are potentially producing carcinogens. It is hardly a surprise that the targets they choose are ones where the questionable toxins are ones in which Smith is interested and on which he is an expert, and equally not surprising that for this reason he wants to testify on them.

As I say, it is also possible that he is abusing his position for personal gain, even if it threatens his standing in the scientific community (which is quite high, judging from the number of organizations he has been elected or appointed to) and academic position. I do know of people in similar positions where this is likely the case. But in the absence of other information or evidence of actual academic misconduct, Occam’s Razor would say to assume that this evolved organically out of genuine concern.

I think it would set a bad precedent to start putting limits on science-related policy advocacy for publicly-supported scientists, especially if those limits narrow the range of non-corporate funding options.

I’m not suggesting that he be banned from either research or advocacy. I do think it would be a good idea to throw out some frivolous lawsuits though.

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I do too, though I don’t know if there are any grounds on which the CERT lawsuits can be judged a priori as frivolous.

IIRC from some of the copyright troll cases, I thought the plaintiffs are supposed list the parties at interest in the case, and the professor is a party at interest. Lying about the parties at interest was one of the hallmarks of the Prenda copyright trolling scams.


The story says they were unable to determine if he informed the court of his connection. That is different from knowing that he did not.