Friday, July 01, 2005

The Search for Truth ...

In a recent post about what I've learned recently about milk (here's a summary: ICK!), I cited several published reports by the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Henry, a fellow blogger, posted a comment saying that PCRM isn't all it's cracked up to be, and linked to this:

Serious allegations.

I know Neal Barnard (and his communications liaison Jeanne) and didn't believe my judgment about Dr. Barnard and his organization could be so off. So, as any good journalist would do, I got in touch with Jeanne to ask her how PCRM was responding to the CCF's piece.

She replied today, apologizing for the delay. Her response? She let the Washington Post do the talking for her:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) Responds to Smear Tactics by Tobacco/Meat Industry Front Group
Criticisms are False and Anti-Public Health

Washington-The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine responds to recent statements by the "Center for Consumer Freedom" (CCF), a group funded by the tobacco, meat, and junk-food industries.

CCF was founded by tobacco lobbyist Rick Berman with more than $3 million from Philip Morris and continues to receive funding from industries that market unhealthful products. Through CCF and other front groups, Berman has fought against stricter limits on legal blood-alcohol levels, improvements in minimum wage, health information for consumers, and other progressive efforts that his commercial clients view as contrary to their interests.

Over the past few years, CCF has escalated its attacks against organizations that warn the public about the health risks associated with alcohol, meat, and other junk food products. Berman has admitted publicly that his MO is to "shoot the messenger" by trying to disparage the credibility of his opponents. His employees do not attempt reasoned discussion of the scientific issues about health. The list of public health advocates in CCF's line of fire includes former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for speaking out against drunk driving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tackling food safety, the World Health Organization for addressing obesity, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

A complaint recently filed with the IRS charges that CCF has violated its tax-exempt status by allegedly engaging in "activities with no charitable purpose" and making large payments to Berman. And two recent editorials, one in the Washington Post ( and one in USA Today ( criticized the group for misrepresenting itself. (For an in-depth exposé by best-selling author John Stauber, please visit

As to CCF's false statements about PCRM, here's the truth. Founded 20 years ago, PCRM is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization
working to promote good nutrition and higher standards in both human and animal research. PCRM has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. PCRM both conducts clinical nutrition research and helps educate the public about preventive medicine, especially the multitude of health benefits possible with low-fat and vegetarian diets. PCRM also opposes unethical research. PCRM exposed experiments in which short, healthy children were to be injected with genetically engineered growth hormone in an attempt to make them taller. PCRM also exposed the practice of using massive estrogen doses to suppress height in tall adolescent girls. In addition, PCRM vigorously promotes alternatives to the use of animals in medical education and research through a variety of innovative programs.

PCRM's physicians, dietitians, and scientists are leaders in their field. They publish their work in peer-reviewed academic journals, present their findings before scientific conferences, and serve as consultants on government panels. PCRM's president Neal Barnard, M.D., (, for example, is a respected nutrition researcher whose current work is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. PCRM experts are also popular with lay audiences. PCRM doctors and nutritionists are frequent guests in the national and international media, and popular writers in the lay press.

CCF tries to characterize health advocates, vegetarians, and animal protection groups as radicals or terrorists. However, PCRM's policies would specifically exclude anyone promoting violence or illegal activity from functioning as a spokesperson or having any role in the organization. This sort of name-calling represents Berman's tactic of ignoring facts and attacking critics of the unhealthful industries he represents.

CCF mistakenly charges that the American Medical Association (AMA) has "censured" PCRM: This is patently untrue. PCRM did have disagreements with the AMA in the early 1990s (the AMA supported animal testing, while PCRM promotes alternatives; PCRM favors vegetarian diets, while the AMA was initially skeptical), but the AMA's censure process was never applied to PCRM. In fact, PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., is a lifetime AMA member. In February 2004, the AMA released a statement saying that its previous criticisms of PCRM's stance on vegetarianism do not represent current AMA opinion or policy. (

CCF also alleges that PCRM acts as a "front" for other groups. This is another unfounded and defamatory claim. While CCF is indeed an industry front, PCRM is an independent, nonprofit organization, and has been since its founding in 1985. PCRM often works with a wide-ranging variety of organizations promoting human health, scientific research, medical education, and protection of animals in laboratories, as well as consumer groups, hospitals, universities, corporations, and other health charities.

A good lesson in never listening to one side of a story.


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