James “Jim” Turner, an attorney and one of “Nader’s Raiders” who staunchly supported public health choice and consumer interests for decades, died suddenly at his home in Washington, DC, on January 25, 2022, at age 81. He is known for his influential, bestselling book The Chemical Feast: Ralph Nader’s Study Group Report on the Food and Drug Administration (Penguin Books, 1970), his role in the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), and more.1-3
Turner was born on April 21, 1940, in Columbus, Ohio, and was raised in Cleveland. His father, James, was a newspaperman, and his mother, Mary, a social worker. In 1962, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history-political science from The Ohio State University (OSU), where he was a US Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) midshipman on full scholarship. From 1962 to 1966, he was a lieutenant in the US Navy, graduated with distinction from the Naval Justice School, and served as a nuclear weapons handling officer and gunnery officer aboard the USS Purdy and USS Austin. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Turner participated in the naval “quarantine,” or blockade, of Cuba.
In 1970, Turner received his law degree from OSU’s College of Law (now the Moritz College of Law), where he was the chief justice of the Moot Court (a mock court), editorial editor of The Buckeye Barrister newspaper, and chair of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council.
Turner’s public advocacy career began as one of “Nader’s Raiders,” a group of activists and advocates assembled by lawyer and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. They became involved with a diverse range of issues and stimulated important reforms. Turner’s exposé The Chemical Feast, with an introduction by Nader, resulted from one of Nader’s study groups and investigated the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and food standards. At the time, members of the food industry reportedly had been allowed to let the safety and value of their products deteriorate. Turner reported that the FDA pursued minor offenses vigorously while failing to address major fraud. The book also illustrated how food standards were being manipulated and subverted. At the time, TIME magazine noted that Turner’s book “may well be the most devastating critique of a U.S. Government agency ever issued.”4
Ralph Nader remembered Turner (email, April 13, 2022):
Jim came to us right out of Ohio State University Law School … with a desire to work on food safety. That was his life’s main mission, and he stuck with it and challenged the weak FDA for decades.
We put him to work writing the book The Chemical Feast, which in those days received wide media coverage at a time when there was rising consumer concern over food additives. He was an early “Nader’s Raider.”
Jim had a cheerful personality, always upbeat even when he lost a battle or was subjected to industry’s criticism. He seemed never to exhibit discouragement or a waning drive in his pursuit of justice. He had those elements of a “civic personality.”
Among his charitable interests was our American Museum of Tort Law, which he supported and visited in Winsted, Connecticut.
Turner fought to have cyclamate, an artificial sweetener with questionable safety, removed from the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list, before the FDA banned cyclamate completely in 1970.
With his then-wife Mary Dustan Turner, he wrote the book Making Your Own Baby Food (Workman Publishing Company, 1972), which outlines a variety of quick, nourishing recipes for babies’ basic meals.
In 1973, Turner and David Swankin, a former aide to White House Consumer Advisor Esther Peterson, formed the law firm Swankin & Turner. For nearly 50 years until his death, Turner was a principal in the firm and represented businesses, individuals, and consumer groups in a wide variety of matters related to food, drug, health, environmental, and product safety regulation.
After a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) effort to ban the words “health food,” “natural,” and “organic” from commerce in 1974, Turner represented a group that prevented this effort by arguing those terms are meaningful and help protect consumer choice. In 1978, he co-founded the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy “to bridge the gap between scientific uncertainties and the need for laws protecting public health and safety,” according to Swankin & Turner’s website.
Turner and many others lobbied successfully for the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established uniform national standards for organic production. In 1992, he took a leadership role with Citizens for Health, a nonprofit consumer organization that defends consumer choice and access in matters related to health and nutrition, and served as its chairman and president until his death.
In 1994, working with Citizens for Health, Turner was actively involved in the passage of DSHEA, which defines dietary supplements as food and established a regulatory system for the dietary supplement industry. Turner was the lead attorney on a petition to the FDA that, in 1996, resulted in the reclassification of acupuncture needles from Class III to Class II medical devices, which allowed their legal importation and distribution.
Susan Haeger, former president and CEO of Citizens for Health, wrote (email, April 14, 2022):
Jim Turner was a leader of influence, driven by deep caring for others to have access to better health and a more just world. He influenced through novel solutions, collaborative engagement, and steady, quiet pressure for change. He was one of the natural health industry’s greatest advocates, guardians, and wise sages.
We worked closely together at Citizens for Health. He showed outstanding leadership on our Board of Directors as we navigated such pivotal times as DSHEA implementation and establishment of organic agriculture standards. He held remarkable and critical insights and built collaborative relationships among industry, government, and citizens – always moving policy toward consumer-friendly regulations. While his legacy is enduring, he will be sorely missed.
James Gormley, president and senior policy advisor of Citizens for Health, wrote (email, April 14, 2022):
Jim was one of the most articulate and powerful voices for consumer choice and health freedom over the last 50 years. He was a giant. While many people know about Citizens for Health’s role in the passage of DSHEA and Jim’s landmark legal victories for acupuncture in the US, not everyone would know that I had the honor to work with Jim on a number of successful consumer and consumer-industry campaigns, including: testifying before the Codex [Alimentarius] Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses to get [the omega-3 fatty acid] DHA listed as a mandatory ingredient in infant formula; co-leading a consumer-industry campaign for the passage of the Dietary Supplement and Non-Prescription Drug Consumer Protection Act; alerting consumers to the dangers of sucralose; defeating state dietetics bills that would have monopolized the dispensing of dietary supplement information; a campaign against the [misleadingly named] Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010; and the campaign to send the [FDA’s] new dietary ingredient (NDI) Draft Guidance back to the drawing board, supported by Capitol Hill meetings where we delivered a petition signed by 10,000 Citizens for Health supporters.
Turner also represented dentists who were ordered by state licensing boards to withhold information from patients about potential risks of mercury in dental amalgam fillings. In 1996, he helped start Consumers for Dental Choice, which led to a coalition that gained adoption of an amalgam provision in the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international treaty to reduce releases of mercury. In 2020, after a campaign by Consumers for Dental Choice, the FDA released a Safety Communication that provides recommendations about the use of dental amalgam in certain people who may be at greater risk to mercury’s potential adverse effects.
Turner, who was a Democrat, and A. Lawrence Chickering, a Republican, wrote Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (Da Vinci Press, 2008). The book presents “transpartisan” thought as an alternative to the left-right dichotomy and explains why it is necessary to solve major global problems. In 2016, they founded The Transpartisan Review, a digital journal of politics, society, and culture dedicated to transpartisan thought.
Chickering wrote (email, April 14, 2022):
Jim had as wide and deep an intellect and spirit as anyone I ever met. He was a man for all seasons and a true partner — for which I am eternally grateful — with a quiet and unassuming genius, furthered by an astonishing memory for [anyone] he ever met, anything he ever read, and all he ever accomplished. His perspectives on life and current events were always fresh. How he had time for me and so many with whom he worked and loved while engaging in a full-time, public-interest law and consulting practice is still beyond me. As they say, “We may never see his like again!”
Turner also had an organic garden at his Washington, DC, home for more than 30 years and founded Potomac Valley Press, which published Healthy Harvest: A Directory of Sustainable Agriculture and Horticulture Organizations from 1985 to 1989.
He served on advisory boards and committees, wrote numerous articles and book chapters, and gave many presentations. He appeared before every major consumer regulatory agency, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, FDA, FTC, NIH, and US Department of Agriculture. He was a consultant for major companies in the food, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications industries, including AT&T, Hoffmann-La Roche, Kraft Foods, and the Quaker Oats Company.
With longtime law partner Betsy Lehrfeld, Turner worked with organizations to protect consumers from potentially unsafe food ingredients, including aspartame, cyclamates, high-fructose corn syrup, and sucralose; defend consumer access to dietary supplements and organic foods; educate policymakers on potential risks of genetically modified organism (GMO) foods; protect consumer rights to homeopathic medicines; remove dangerous drugs from the market; allow dentists to inform patients about safer options than mercury amalgams; advance understanding of the potential risk of radiation emitted by wireless devices; and defend citizens’ rights to personal choice on diverse health and environmental issues.
Lehrfeld wrote (email, April 14, 2022):
Jim Turner was my life partner and law partner for 45 wonderful years, during which he never spoke an unkind word to me. In the beginning, we discovered we had the same goal: “to have fun and save the world” — one thing, not two. To Jim, doing good was having fun, and he couldn’t envision a life without purpose. He gave me opportunities I had never imagined for helping people and advancing social policies, and he taught me skills to take advantage of them. But the main thing that he gave me was what he gave to so many: real interest and attention, his desire to talk to who you really were and learn from you, and his ability to put things in a larger context, one in which your highest goals and talents had an important role to play.
He was strong, brilliant, optimistic, good humored, knowledgeable, strategic, generous, brave, and a reliable friend, mentor, and advisor who had your wellbeing, rather than his own status, profit, or recognition, foremost in his mind. He was a private public servant with prodigious gifts that he never hesitated to share. He was happy and productive to the last. Let his memory continue to inspire us to keep up the good work, prosper, and prevail.
Janice Hall, president of Natural Network International, wrote: “Jim Turner was a decades-long dear friend and a rare, truly noble champion of justice. The breadth of his brilliance is almost undefinable. He had a remarkable intellect and legal mind, and, coupled with a deep spiritual understanding, was dedicated to raising up the best in humanity. A savvy defender of the natural products industry and a wide range of complementary and alternative medicine practices and professions, he was a tireless advocate for consumer choice” (email, April 14, 2022).
Camilla Rees, a health and environmental activist, author, and producer, wrote: “I was privileged to work with someone of the caliber, humility, generosity, and integrity of Jim Turner. He was a brilliant teacher and extraordinary listener. Jim could take in many points of view, organize them quickly, and succinctly respond from legal, political, and energetic perspectives. The latter is where our interests greatly overlapped. He looked at life through an energetic lens, including political processes, activism, legal battles, the ecosystem, and more, always keen to learn” (email, April 15, 2022).
In a tribute published by the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), Michael McGuffin, president of AHPA, wrote: “Jim was a force to be reckoned with in the health freedom community for over half a century. He would commonly greet me by asking, ‘Are we winning?’ and it is certain that all who care about freedom of choice in health care have won a lot over the years through Jim’s leadership and wisdom, and his advocacy for activism and cooperation.”3
James Turner is survived by Betsy Lehrfeld, his son Christopher, and daughter Victoria. He is predeceased by his former wife Mary and sister Elizabeth. The family asks that any donations be made to the Citizens for Health Education Foundation.
- In Memory of James S. Turner: 1940–2022. Citizens for Health website. February 2, 2022. Available at: https://citizens.org/in-memoriam-mr-turner/. Accessed April 19, 2022.
- In Memoriam: James Turner, Citizens for Health, 1940–2022. WholeFoods Magazine February 4, 2022. Available at: https://wholefoodsmagazine.com/news/in-memoriam-james-turner-citizens-for-health-1940-2022/. Accessed April 19, 2022.
- Jim Turner — In Memoriam. American Herbal Products Association website. January 28, 2022. Available at: www.ahpa.org/News/LatestNews/TabId/96/ArtMID/1179/ArticleID/2770/Jim-Turner-%E2%80%93-In-Memoriam.aspx. Accessed April 28, 2022.
- Agencies: Up Against the Wall, FDA! TIME April 20, 1970. Available at: https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,944019,00.html. Accessed April 28, 2022.