Conservatives target the Environmental Working Group

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog group working on issues such as chemicals in food and consumer products, has been the target of complaints to the IRS from Ron Arnold's Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and singled out by the conservative Capital Research Center.

In February 2002 Arnold filed a complaint with the IRS seeking the revocation of its tax-exempt status and dispatched a letter of complaint to one of the EWG's foundation funders. [1] [2]

In December 2003 the conservative Capital Research Center newsletter Foundation Watch published an article by Gretchen Randall and Tom Randall, the founders of the Chicago-based PR company Winningreen.

Aside from reviewing the Tides Foundation, the Randalls bemoaned EWG's success in protesting against the reporting of John Stossel in a special on environmental education. The Randalls took issue with concerns raised by EWG in a July 2003 report on PCB concentrations in farmed salmon, which were higher than in beef. "Less emphasised is the fact that the PCB level is considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that the EWG test considered only 10 samples of farm raised salmon," they wrote reassuringly.

It was a lead taken up the next month by Bonner Cohen in a 5-page feature in the same publication. The success of EWG in getting media coverage on the report on farmed salmon irked Cohen, who turned to critiques from Elizabeth Whelan from the American Council on Science and Health and the National Fisheries Association for rebuttal. The themes they emphasised was that the PCB levels were "trace" amounts of no great significance.

For background on EWG, Cohen turned to Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Rick Berman's website and Professor Bruce N. Ames. Cohen concluded that "the public is repeatedly told - in the absence of any supporting data - about the dangers to people, particularly children, caused by exposure to tracel elements of pesticdes."

Cohen also sought to portray EWG as an adjunct of trial lawyers. The basis for the claim rested solely on the fact that some of the topic areas class action lawsuits were being considered for included some of the hazardous substances that EWG investigated. (The alternative explanation, that substances such as asbestos, lead, mercury and pesticides were widepread environmental hazards known to cause serious health problems, is ignored). While accusing EWG of using "junk science", Cohen grudgingly acknowledges that the organisation might have a relatively small budget compared to larger environmental non-profits but has more impact. "It's an effective voice for an irresponsible cause," he concluded.

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