The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a radical environmentalist non-profit headquartered in Washington D.C. Their goal, they claim, is “to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.” In reality, EWG exists to scare consumers out of using perfectly safe, and sometimes life-saving, products at the behest of their corporate donors. Infamous for their “consumer guides,” the non-profit claims that sunscreen, baby bottles, vaccines and even conventional produce are toxic.
Sham Studies, Complicit Media: EWG’s Playbook
Following the lead of legitimate science organizations, EWG regularly produces original scientific research and commentary intended for lay audiences. Unlike publications from credible authorities, however, EWG’s research is poorly designed and meant only to stir up panic among consumers. Their hyperbolic results make for good headlines, so the media often report the findings to the public without criticism. EWG has relied on this routine to generate publicity and raise money for years, despite fierce criticism from scientists.
For example, the non-profit once pointed out that some bottled water contains acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) in miniscule amounts. They then claimed that constant exposure to this “contaminant” produces unknown, but presumably dangerous, side effects. But EWG left out that you’d have to drink 270 million one-liter bottles of water (pg 32) to consume the same amount of acetaminophen found in one Tylenol capsule. The chemist reviewing EWG’s study in this case called their methodology “outrageously unscientific,” and he’s not the only expert to weigh in on the quality of EWG’s work.
EWG Opposes Scientific Consensus
EWG portrays its critics as puppets of industry, paid by big corporations to protect their products from regulation. However, most scientists with the expertise to evaluate EWG’s claims are unimpressed with the non-profit, too. In 2009, nearly 1,000 members of the Society of Toxicologists responded to a survey about EWG. 79% of the experts surveyed said EWG overstates the potential risks posed by the chemicals they critique.
This sharp criticism was arguably too conservative, since EWG is wrong about nearly every cause they take up. Whatever the scientific consensus happens to be on the safety of a particular chemical, the chances are good that EWG is on the opposite side. In some cases, EWG’s chemical ignorance is so great that they recommend the use of products that are nearly identical to the ones they want to ban.
EWG’s Shameless Organic Industry Funding
As of 2016, The EWG receives massive donations from the organic industry. Nearly half of the group’s funding comes from a non-profit called Organic Voices Action Fund (OVAF), which is financed by 20 corporations that sell organic products, including Stonyfield, Earthbound Farm, Organic Valley, Nature’s Path and Annie’s. OVAF exists to promote the consumption of organic products and demonize conventional agriculture. They operate the Just Label It campaign, and EWG president and co-founder Ken Cook sits on OVAF’s board of directors.
These corporate donations comprise almost half of EWG’s annual revenue. According to their website, the funds are earmarked for “a collaboration to highlight the benefits of organic food and advance the fight for labeling food that contains genetically engineered ingredients.”
Some of EWG’s corporate donors, like Dr. Bronner Soaps, also conspire with friendly journalists to smear scientists and push GMO labeling legislation around the country. Emails released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2015 revealed that Dr. Bronner’s asked Mother Jones food writer Tom Philpott to attack science journals that refused to carry Bronner’s GMO labeling propaganda. Conveniently enough, all of Dr. Bronner’s products are highly rated in EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.