- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

America's favorite foods are fighting back.
Ding Dongs, nachos and powdered sugar doughnuts are hitting the airwaves, spoofing the studies that say they are bad for you.
The advertising campaign is sponsored by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington-based coalition of more than 30,000 restaurant and tavern operators nationwide. The group is waging a war against what it says are often "baseless" studies used by groups to advocate certain behavior, whether it is cutting back on drinking soda or becoming a vegetarian.
"We're out to protect consumer choice, not promoting one diet over another," said Mike Burita, a spokesman for Consumer Freedom.
The group has spent $200,000 to run three 60-second spots on about a dozen radio stations in the Washington area. The ads direct consumers to its Web site (www.consumerfreedom.com) where they can learn more about the groups that use studies to fuel their agendas.
John Doyle, co-founder of the center, said the objective is to get people to think harder and delve deeper into the studies and who is behind them.
"There is this junk science or sensational science that doesn't hold up to scrutiny once you scratch the surface," Mr. Doyle said.
One ad warns that consumers shouldn't eat Ding Dongs or nachos. No such study exists, but the campaign addresses the concept of what the latest studies may be suggesting.
"According to the latest study, you probably won't realize what a load of poppycock some of these studies are," the serious, authoritative announcer says in one of the ads mocking the "latest studies" about how consumers should not eat meat.
"In essence, they are trying to tell people to be skeptical or disbelieve any scientific studies," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition, health and food-safety advocacy group. "They prefer not to have consumers know the facts about the products they serve."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, based in the District, is responsible for many of the studies on the nutritional value or lack thereof of Chinese food, movie popcorn and steakhouse meat, for example.
The advocacy group is showing signs of retaliation. It is publishing a book in June called "Restaurant Confidential," which analyzes several hundred restaurant foods. The book basically shows that there are "far more calories, fat and sodium, [in restaurant foods] than you would expect," Mr. Jacobson said.
He doesn't expect the book to be well-received by the Center for Consumer Freedom.
"They didn't like the restaurant studies we've done, so I trust they won't like the book."
The Consumer Freedom ads which use the tag line "It's your food. It's your drink. It's your freedom." will run through the end of the month. The center is considering extending the campaign and expanding it to other markets.
"The response has been really good," Mr. Burita said. "We think people are just tired of being told how to live their lives."
The group, formerly called the Guest Choice Network, has received positive feedback from e-mails and has seen an increase in hits to its Web site, Mr. Burita said.
It has been around since the late 1990s, but this year is the first time it has advertised. Consumer Freedom began running print ads targeting Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in January. Those ads have stopped running, but Mr. Burita says more print ads will follow.
The group is even mocking the government's newest Body Mass Index standards on its Web site. When changed in 1998, the standards resulted in 30 million Americans going from government-approved to overweight or obese overnight. In March, Consumer Freedom added its own "fat scale" to its Web site to help consumers determine whether they are overweight like Michael Jordan or obese like Tom Cruise.
Earlier this year, the surgeon general said an "obesity epidemic" threatens public health, giving activist groups more fuel to propose taxes on snack foods and tobacco-style class-action lawsuits against restaurants.
One ad addresses the taxing of snack foods by saying: "And while studies show that your brain shouldn't be taxed, they do show that your Ding Dongs should. A 6 percent fat tax to make all of you weak snack-food sinners pay for your polyunsaturated transgressions."
Mr. Doyle said results of reports and studies are constantly taken out of context, are distorted to fit a group's agenda or offer findings that don't support conclusions in the studies.
"We want people to be careful who they're listening to, and a lot of times there's a bias," Mr. Burita said. "We want to educate consumers on who these groups are and know if there's an agenda behind them."
But Mr. Jacobson says the purpose of the ads, which do not mention that Consumer Freedom is made up of restaurant and tavern operators, "is to belittle citizen groups."
"It seems to me the restaurant industry is extremely embarrassed by the products it sells so it resorts to ridicule," he said.

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