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Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM)

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a nonprofit association that claims to promote "optimal diet for prevention of disease," says there is evidence that humans don't have a specific requirement for protein, and teaches that "too much dietary protein from animal sources is detrimental to health." [1] PCRM's reference to "animal sources" is key to understanding its true purpose. Its leader, Neal Barnard, MD, has been identified as medical adviser to the radical animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and PCRM may be substantially funded by it. Animal activists are highly successful fundraisers. The combined budgets for 15 of the leading animal protection organizations exceeded $115 million in 1994 (PETA took in $12 million) [2]. In NCAHF's view, PCRM is a propaganda machine whose press conferences are charades for disguising its ideology as news events.

Vegetarian Super Sell

Barnard extols the virtues of strict vegetarian (vegan) diets. He claims that when it comes to life span "It's not genetics or fate that gives people long, healthy lives and cuts other people short; for those who want to take care of themselves, it all comes down to diet." [3] Seventh-day Adventist's (SDA) health has been studied by Loma Linda University's School of Public Health for many years. They have found that vegetarian diet provides some protection from heart disease for men, but not women. Cancer incidence is lower among SDAs that the general population, but not better than meat-eating Mormons [4]. Both Mormons and SDAs abstain from tobacco, which probably accounts for most of the health benefits both enjoy. There is no indication from studies done among long-lived people that diet is much of a factor. Interviews of 1127 centenarians by the U.S. Social Security Administration from 1963-72 found that only four of them were vegetarians. Without knowing the proportion of vegetarians in the general population it is not possible to know whether this number is statistically significant, but the preponderance of nonvegetarians says something by itself [5]. Barnard's idea that it is not genetics that gives people long healthy lives is refuted by a study of 100 (50 men and 50 women) in their tenth decade of life. When questioned about their lifestyles in their earlier years, the researchers concluded that "in many respects the coronary risk profile of these apparently healthy nonagenarians represents the mirror image of that of the contemporary coronary-prone middle-aged adult." It appears that genetics protected these people from their lifestyles. Barnard speaks as if he had never heard of familial hypercholesterolemia, iron-overload genes, and other genetic factors in heart disease.

Neal Barnard compares animal husbandry and dairying to tobacco raising. He claims that the USDA's food group model is based upon industry influence and is tantamount to government support for tobacco. There is a big difference. Tobacco farmers receive support, but the government does not recommend smoking. Since 1964 the Surgeon General has condemned smoking, and the government has required a warning label on cigarettes. The USDA, and other nutrition and health science groups, have allowed for meatless eating in the protein group. Barnard's appeal to cynicism is demagogic, and typical of ideologists who are on a mission to convert others to their way of thinking.

PCRM Invents Its Own Food Group Plan.

In April 1991, PCRM asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to abandon its scientifically derived four food group model and substitute instead its own plant food based four food group plan. The PCRM four food group plan was below the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances in protein, calcium, iron, zinc, preformed vitamin A, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. [7] PCRM's four food group plan was discredited by the American Dietetic Association [8] and the American Medical Association which refers to PCRM as a "pseudo-physicians group" [9] because less than 0.5% of physicians are members. In reference to PCRM's four food group plan, the AMA said:

The AMA finds the recommendations of PCRM irresponsible and potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of Americans. The AMA charges that PCRM is "blatantly misleading Americans on a health matter and concealing its true purpose as an animal 'rights' organization.

In June 1990, the AMA formally requested PCRM to terminate the inappropriate and unethical tactics used to manipulate public opinion against the use of animals in biomedical research. The AMA's James S. Todd, MD, urged PCRM to immediately change its tactics and join the medical and scientific communities in efforts to protect and preserve human welfare [10].

Victor Herbert, MD, JD, who has done landmark research in human nutrition, served on the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, and presented papers at international conferences on vegetarianism, points out that, although developed by the USDA, the Basic Four Food Group system is actually based on traditions rooted in the Old Testament. Kosher dietary law scholars Regenstein and Regenstein of Cornell note that the Biblical (and Moslem) four food groups are:

MEAT. (Yiddish: fleishig); Without meat in the diet iron deficiency becomes widespread (animal iron is 5 times as absorbable as plant iron).

DAIRY. (Yiddish: milchig); Eliminating dairy foods increases risk of osteoporosis. Even non-physician Colin Campbell confirmed this from his work in China 3 weeks after his service as a spokesman for PCRM at their "let's eat only plant foods" news conference.

NEUTRAL (mainly plant). (Hebrew: parve or pareve.) In 1956 the USDA divided the plant group into two: grains and fruits-vegetables. PCRM goes extreme by dividing the Biblical plant group into four, and telling people to forget about the meat and dairy groups. Their 4-food group model not only increases the risk of anemia and osteoporosis, it guarantees severe blood and nervous system damage because nothing that grows out of the ground contains vitamin B12.

UNACCEPTABLE. (Yiddish: traif); included pork, shellfish, blood, etc.

PCRM Attacks Dairy Products

On September 29, 1992, PCRM called a press conference and announced that milk was bad for babies because of its low iron content, possible allergic reactions to its protein, possible traces of antibiotics, digestive problems (lactose intolerance), and a possible link to juvenile diabetes. The media would likely have paid less attention if Dr. Benjamin Spock had not lent his name to the news conference. There was nothing at all newsworthy about the PCRM news conference. No pediatric nutritionist recommends milk as a primary food for infants; both cow's and mother's milk are too low in iron for growing babies. Babies have high iron stores at birth due to having had to rely upon umbilical-supplied oxygen in utero; these iron stores last until solid food is introduced in the second half of their first year. Some babies do react to milk protein and others have lactose intolerance, but this is very old information. The diabetes link is interesting since the disease does seem to be caused by a virus that attacks the pancreas, and milk could be one route of transmission. However, PCRM had done no new work in this area, and the milk-connection could be a random finding. The American Diabetes Association says that more research is needed on any possible milk-diabetes link [11], and a 1996 study designed to answer this question found no association [12].

On the matter of residues, the FDA stated that data from 46 regulatory agencies showed .08% of raw milk and .02% of pasteurized milk samples contained drug residues, while PCRM claimed that about a third (33%) contained residues—a huge exaggeration. From all appearances, PCRM was simply staging a "food terrorist's" media event to propagate its vegan ideology. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Dietetic Association, the University of California at Davis Department of Nutrition, and the California State Department of Health Services, all issued press releases refuting PCRM's anti-milk message. The American Council on Science and Health published an article, "much ado about milk," (Priorities, Spring, 1993) that refuted PCRM's anti-milk propaganda. T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University also appeared at the press conference. Campbell had done a survey of Chinese dietary intakes. He did not do a medical study. In his report he linked the Chinese people's high intake of vegetables with their comparatively low rates of heart disease without pointing out that the more important statistic of life expectancy in China is only 66 years compared to the USA's 75 years [13]. Campbell's pictures showing throngs of Chinese walking everywhere, and others with a small truckload of goods on the bicycles they were peddling, betrayed his emphasis on diet as the factor mostly responsible for lower heart disease rates. Obviously exercise and low body weights play a significant role.

PCRM Attacks Medical Uses of Animal Organs.

Animal-rights ideologists consider animals to be on a par with humans. When a Loma Linda University medical team transplanted a baboon's heart into infant Baby Fae, animal rights activists picketed the medical center. To some it was paradoxical that animal righters should come into conflict with an SDA institution with its tradition of vegetarianism. It shows that not all vegetarians share all of the underlying ideologies. SDAs have no difficulty placing the value of human life above that of animals. In October, 1992, following the transplantation of a pig's liver in a 30-year-old woman who needed the organ to survive for a few days while a human liver was located, a representative of PCRM engaged in a televised debate with one of the physicians who did the transplant lamenting that the pig's consent was not obtained. When the surgeon argued that pigs were killed daily for meat, including their livers, the PCRM doctor retorted that it was the eating of saturated animal fat that was responsible for most deaths in modern society. He cited Colin Campbell's China study as evidence.

PCRM Attacks School Lunch Programs.

In October, 1996, PCRM rated school lunch programs and judged them to be unhealthful. This wasn't based upon the health of the students who ate them, but the ideological criteria of veganism. Nevertheless, the media reported the claims as though they were newsworthy. Some reports included mention that the group doing the judging favored an offbeat point of view on diet.

Diet: Survival, Longevity, and Quality of Life.

NCAHF recognizes that humans can survive on many different kinds of diets, and individual's diets are rooted more in culture and personal preference than science. Hindus are largely vegetarians. Eskimos and Canada's Inuits subsist exclusively on raw meat. Australian aborigines eat lizards and insects. Coastal Indians eat seafood. Nomads eat grazing animals that move with them in their ceaseless journeys. Many religions have dietary restrictions. Despite such wide variations, they all survive. However, survival does not equate with longevity. Natural selection only requires that people live long enough to propagate and rear their young. Epidemiologists, who must quantify "health" so differing groups can be compared, have determined that the gauge of the health of a society is life expectancy. Life expectancy in primitive settings is only 22-29 years [14]. Non-experts focus too much upon causes of death without realizing that a higher rate of heart disease, cancer, and stroke reflects a population that has lived long enough to develop such diseases. Longevity is a consistent feature of a modern technological society. Besides survival and longevity, public health experts also take into account quality of life. If longevity means just more time spent in boredom, the prospects for an a meaningful life are bleak indeed. Underdeveloped nations are usually deprived of many of the things that make people's lives more enjoyable, including festive foods. The diets of the poor nations are largely vegetarian. As societies become more prosperous, they also eat more meat and animal products.

NCAHF wonders if the vegetarian ideologist is merely today's ascetic who revels in self-denial and wars against pleasure. Animal rights devotees reflect the Taoist worldview. On April 24, 1996, PETA's Ingrid Newkirk appeared on the television show Day & Date opposing sport fishing. Her arguments began by eliciting sympathy for fish as living creatures who suffocate when taken out of the water. She then said that fish were unhealthful food because they contain mercury and other environmental contaminants. Her ultimate solution was for people to "go vegetarian." Her opponent, a television talk-show hostess pressed her into acknowledging the PETA creed. She recalled an on-air encounter with a PETA representative where a scenario was presented in which her daughter needed a vital organ of a beloved household pet to survive. The ethical question centered around placing a value on the life of a child versus a household pet. The PETA representative held that the child has no more value than the pet, reflecting the Taoist view that all life is equally sacred. An individual is free to choose such a belief if they wish, but should neither force such a value on others by law or by using mind control techniques.

NCAHF supports efforts to prevent cruelty to animals. It deplores the public torture and maiming of animals in cultural rituals such as bull fighting, cock fighting, dog fighting, animal beheading on horseback, and so forth. NCAHF deplores the poaching of endangered species for the purpose of obtaining their body parts for medicinal purposes based upon superstition. NCAHF deplores the plunder of sharks for the purpose of supplying the quack remedy shark cartilage. NCAHF endorses the responsible use of animals in medical research. NCAHF considers vegetarianism, particularly veganism, a hygienic religion that meets deep emotional needs of its followers. Adherents cannot be trusted to be objective, reliable sources of information on anything that bears upon its fundamental paradigm. PCRM pretends to speak for physicians who are functioning as medical experts. In reality, it is speaking for a handful of ideologists who happen to be physicians, but who are functioning as vege-evangelists.

The essence of sound nutrition is in three guiding words; four basic food groups, and the seven Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The three guiding words are: variety, moderation, and balance. Food groups help balance the variety from which diets may be selected. All food is "health food" in moderation; any food is "junk food" in excess—there are no inherently "good" or "bad" foods, just good and bad total diets. More than anything else in food, it is excessive calories producing too much body fat (rather than dietary fat per se) that is associated with our high frequency of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Exercise, which also should be done in moderation with variety and balance, is inseparable from diet for good health. NCAHF highly recommends Total Nutrition by Victor Herbert as a comprehensive guide to sound nutrition information (see attached book list).


  1. Capital Research Center. "Responsible or irresponsible medicine?" Organizational Trends, September, 1991, p.5.
  2. Zimmerman D. "Animal activists are rolling in $$$," Probe, February, 1996, p.5.
  3. Lipovenko D. "How to live longer and better," Toronto Globe & Mail, June 21, 1993.
  4. Lyon JL, Klauber MR, Gardner JW, Smart CR. "Cancer incidence in Mormons and non-Mormons in Utah, 1966-70," New Engl J Med 294;129-133 (p.132).
  5. Segerberg O. Living To Be 100. Chas Scribner & Sons, 1982.
  6. Danner SA, De Beaumont M-J, Dunning AJ. "Cardiovascular health in the tenth decade," British Medical Journal, Sept 2, 1978, p. 663.
  7. Editorial viewpoint, "Dietary guideline fiascos," Nutrition Today, May/June, 1991, p.6.
  8. American Dietetic Association, "Diet without meat and diary products is not best for most American's dietitians say," News Release, April 8, 1991.
  9. Strickland D. "'New' food groups: data or dogma?" Medical World News, circa May, June, 1991.
  10. "AMA refutes the validity of 'physician's group' report," AMA News Release. April 10, 1991.
  11. Rehrmann L. "Milk and Children," Associated Press, Baltimore, September 29, 1992.
  12. Norris JM, et al. "Lack of association between early exposure to cow's milk protein and beta-cell autoimmunity," JAMA, 1996;276:609.
  13. Population Reference Bureau, 1988.
  14. Weiss KM. "Demographic models for anthropology," Amer Antiquity 1973;39 (2, part 2); in Gardner RW, Schmitt RC. "Ninety-seven years of mortality in Hawaii," Hawaii Med J 1978;37:297.

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© 1996, National Council Against Health Fraud.
With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

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This article was posted on January 15, 2001.