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

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The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) is a nonprofit that kicked off its mysterious existence by filing a string of lawsuits against restaurant chains and coffee roasters for not posting California Proposition 65 notices (the notices are mandatory warnings about the presence of "chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity") despite the disputed science behind their demands. The California legislature has formally ended some of CERT's crusade by passing a law that says that Prop 65 warnings never have to be given for coffee. On the eve of this defeat, Ars Technica's Beth Mole (previously) did some deep investigative digging to figure out who was behind CERT. CERT always had a public face in its attorney, Raphael Metzger of Metzger Law Group -- it's his address that's listed on their tax documents. But by digging through documents going back to CERT's formation in 2001, Mole uncovered some of its other principals, officers and associates, including the (now deceased) lawyer/actor C Sterling Wolfe, UC Riverside philosophy prof Carl Cranor, Cal State Long Beach history prof Nancy Quam-Wickham, Nancy Perley, Brad Lunn, and, perhaps most notably, UC Berkeley cancer epidemiologist Martyn Smith. Smith's connection to the group -- whatever it may be -- is the most obviously significant because Smith is also a repeat expert witness in the group's suits, and Mole couldn't find any filings or transcripts in which Smith's potential conflict of interest was revealed (Smith's own filings show that CERT funds much of his research -- apparently the only activity that CERT undertakes apart from filing lawsuits). Read the rest

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