The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a “pro-regulation” advocacy organization “that is proud of being known as ‘the food police.’” In 1971, three scientists working for Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law founded CSPI.
CSPI has sought to mandate burdensome new food regulations, prohibitions, and corporate policies. CSPI’s activism has led to the creation of numerous food labeling mandates; the group has secured prohibitions and regulations against the use of various cooking oils. CSPI has argued for various snack food and soda prohibitions including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “soda ban.” The group has even called for a $10 billion annual soft drink tax.
CSPI sued McDonald’s for giving out toys with its children’s meals, sued MillerCoors for selling caffeinated alcoholic beverages, and sued Coca-Cola comparing the soft-drink company to the tobacco industry. 
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a food policy advocacy organization founded in 1971 by Albert Fritsch, Michael Jacobson, and Jim Sullivan, who were at the time working for Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law.
At first, CSPI focused on a variety of left-leaning nutrition, environmental, and energy issues. However, in 1977, Fritsch and Sullivan left CSPI, and Michael Jacobson, the organization’s executive director, focused its operations almost exclusively on nutrition and food policy issues. By 2002, the organization had grown to 55 staff members and an annual budget of more than $14 million. 
CSPI uses legal actions, administrative appeals, legislative lobbying, and public pressure campaigns to seek mandatory changes that address its left-of-center consumer regulation agenda.Over its 40-year history, CSPI has sought to enact countless burdensome new mandates, prohibitions, and corporate policies. CSPI has also sought to successfully increase government spending on food and physical activity focused programs. 
Beginning in 1984, CSPI ran the Project SMART (Stop Marketing Alcohol on Radio and Television) campaign, which sought federal legislation to prohibit beer and wine marketing on the radio and television.
In 1988, CSPI helped create a “federal law requiring a health warning label on all alcoholic beverage containers.”
CSPI has long advocated for food labeling mandates. From 1978-1982 it helped generate an FDA rule related to the labeling of sodium and fat contents.
In 1990, CSPI successfully pushed for a new federal law requiring nutrition labeling of packaged foods, a mandate that would be greatly expanded to include fats and allergens, in subsequent years.
Similarly, the CSPI waged a 10-year lobbying campaign pushing congress to mandate that all menus and menu boards at chain restaurants include calorie counts. The mandate was included as a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) and the menu-labeling mandate went into effect in May 2018.
Cooking Oil Reversal
In the 1980s, CSPI advocated against the use of beef tallow-based cooking oils, citing the animal fat-based oils’ high levels of saturated fats. CSPI endorsed partially hydrogenated vegetable oils—known as trans fats—as a healthier, alternative. CSPI went so far as to write in the organization’s Nutrition Action Healthletter: “Despite the rumors, there is little good evidence that trans fats cause any more harm than other fats.”
As a result of CSPI’s anti-tallow campaign “nearly all targeted firms responded by replacing saturated fats with trans fats.” But by the mid-1990s, CSPI had turned on partially hydrogenated oils and demanded their prohibition.
In 2007, as a result of a CSPI lawsuit, Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to stop using trans fats in its food meals. The following year the state of California, as well as New York City, Boston, and other cities prohibited the use of trans fats in restaurant food preparation.
A 1994 CSPI petition pushed the FDA to require trans fat labeling, and in 2003 the FDA accommodated and made this requirement mandatory. In 2004 a CSPI petition, pushed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a major source of trans fat.  In 2015 the FDA accommodated CSPI and banned the use of partially hydrogenated oil.
Soda and Snack Restrictions
CSPI has taken numerous actions targeting consumer choice over soda and snack food. In 2012, CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson supported then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Soda Ban” and said companies should be ashamed for wanting to sell their products and for focusing the conversation on free markets rather than government-funded healthcare.
CSPI has sought to limit specific types of snack food marketing and called for a $10 billion national soda tax that would provide revenues for government-funded “health coverage for all Americans.”
CSPI led the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) coalition in support of the 2010 law which prohibited certain soda and snack foods from being sold in schools and which successfully pushed the Center for Disease Control to increase government spending on food programs by over $40 million (2,150%) annually.
CSPI often uses lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits to force corporate actions.
In one such lawsuit, CSPI sued McDonald’s for giving out toys in its happy meals. CSPI argued that the toys were unfair marketing and violated California’s consumer protection law. Cato Institute scholar Walter Olson called CSPI’s lawsuit against McDonald’s a
“new low in responsible parenting.”
In another lawsuit filed in September 2008, CSPI sued MillerCoors Brewing Company arguing that the caffeine and guarana in its Sparks malt beverages “resulted in ‘more drunk driving, more injuries, and more sexual assaults.’” The FDA would prohibit a number of prepackaged caffeinated alcoholic beverages in 2010.
In 2017, CSPI sued Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association (a trade group representing soft drink manufacturers) claiming that the soda company had mislead consumers about the health risks posed by soft drinks. The lawsuit sought to compare soda marketing to the 1990’s tobacco industry lawsuit.
Over the coming decades, CSPI will seek to further expand its food restrictions by mandating reductions in sugar and salt, prohibiting what the organization subjectively deems misleading labeling and advertising. CSPI additionally hopes to eliminate snack food marketing towards children in the media, supermarkets, and restaurants. CSPI also plans to ramp up its call for federal agencies to impose onerous regulations on food marketers and manufacturers.
In 2017 CSPI’s received 37.6% ($5.3 million) of its revenue from membership dues and subscriptions to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI also took in 35.6% ($5 million) of its funding from contributions, and 15% ($2.2 million) of its revenue from foundational grants.
A number of left-leaning foundations have given money to CSPI, among them the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts,  and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Peter Lurie is executive director and president of CSPI. Previously, Lurie served as the Associate Commissioner for Public Health Strategy and Analysis at the Food and Drug Administration under President Barack Obama.
Michael F. Jacobson is CSPI’s co-founder and served as its executive director from its founding until July 2017. 
Lisa Heinzerling is CSPI’s board chair and an environmental lawyer, advocate, and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Heinzerling previously served as a member of President Barack Obama’s EPA transition team and as Senior Climate Policy Counsel to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during President Obama’s tenure.
Other members of CSPI’s board include CSPI founder Michael Jacobson, Clinton-era FDA Commissioner David Kessler, and President Obama’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, William Corr.