Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
|Founder||Neal D. Barnard|
|Focus||to promote non-animal methods in research and education (opposition to animal testing) and a plant-based diet (veganism) for disease prevention and survival.|
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., which promotes a vegan plant-based diet, preventive medicine, alternatives to animal research, and encourages what it describes as "higher standards of ethics and effectiveness in research." Its primary activities include outreach and education about nutrition and compassionate choices to healthcare professionals and the public; ending the use of animals in medical school curricula; and advocating for legislative changes on the local and national levels.
The National Council Against Health Fraud has criticized PCRM as being "a propaganda machine" and the American Medical Association has called PCRM a "pseudo-physicians group" promoting possibly dangerous nutritional advice.
Barnard Medical Center
The Physicians Committee opened the nonprofit Barnard Medical Center in 2016. The Barnard Medical Center’s staff, which includes physicians, dietitians, and other health care professionals, provides complete primary care, with a focus on nutrition to help prevent and treat diabetes, weight loss, and heart health.
Healthy Hospital Food
The Physicians Committee releases an annual report ranking the healthfulness of hospital food. The Physicians Committee also encourages hospitals to replace fast food with more healthful options. In January 2016, the Physicians Committee placed billboards that read “Eat More Chickpeas” near hospitals with Chick-fil-As. In May 2016, the Physicians Committee spoke before the board of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and erected billboards that read “Ask Your Local Hospital to Go #FastFoodFree.” In June 2016, Grady announced that its McDonald’s was shutting down.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
When the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) announced in February 2015 that “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption ,” the Physicians Committee began working to keep cholesterol warnings in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
In March 2015, Dr. Neal Barnard presented oral testimony at the National Institutes of Health, stating that “for all its good work, the Committee made a scientific error on cholesterol and to carry this glaring mistake into the Guidelines is not scientifically defensible.”
In October 2015, the Physicians Committee placed billboards reading “#CholesterolKills” near the Texas home offices of Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. K. Michael Conaway. The Physicians Committee appealed to Rep. Conaway with the billboards and a letter after he convened an October congressional hearing over the Agriculture Committee’s “concerns with the process of developing the Dietary Guidelines.”
In January 2016, the Physicians Committee filed a lawsuit alleging that the DGAC recommended dropping limits on dietary cholesterol, motivated by industry pressure, according to documents recovered by the Physicians Committee under the Freedom of Information Act.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released in January 2016 retained recommendations for Americans to limit cholesterol consumption . On March 23, 2016, Neal Barnard told the Washington Post that he liked that “the guidelines reinstated the advice to eat as little cholesterol as possible and finally called out a vegetarian eating pattern as one of three healthy options.”
Wayne State University Dog Experiments
Since 2011, the Physicians Committee has urged Wayne State University to end its heart failure experiments on dogs. A study by Physicians Committee doctors published in the American Journal of Translational Research in 2015 noted that “insights gleaned from decades of animal-based research efforts have not been proportional to research success in terms of deciphering human heart failure and developing effective therapeutics for human patients.”
In 2015, Wayne State alumna and actress Lily Tomlin joined the Physicians Committee in urging Wayne State to end its dog experiments. She wrote to the university’s president: “I understand that Wayne State is spending millions of taxpayer dollars using dogs in heart failure experiments that have not benefited human health in any way. I urge you to end these senseless experiments as soon as possible.” The Physicians Committee also placed billboards in Detroit that told the story of Madonna , one of the dogs who died in the heart failure experiments.
Ending Medical School Live Animal Laboratories
The Physicians Committee has spent years urging medical schools to replace live animal use with simulators in surgery skills training.
On June 30, 2016, the Washington Post reported that the University of Tennessee—the last remaining school to use animals—e-mailed the Physicians Committee that “effective immediately, the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga has ceased to provide surgical skills training for medical students using live animal models.” Over the years, the Physicians Committee demonstrated and placed billboards leading to the decision.
The announcement followed the recent decision by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to end live animal use in its surgery skills training. In 2014, the Physicians Committee doctor members demonstrated outside of the university. In February 2016, the Physicians Committee worked with Maryland State Del. Shane Robinson to introduce a bill to end the practice in Maryland. On May 18, 2016, the Baltimore Sun reported that Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine would stop using live animals.
Since 2007, the Physicians Committee has urged reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. On June 22, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which contains language requiring chemical companies and the Environmental Protection Agency to replace and reduce animal tests and increase the use of human-relevant methods. The Physicians Committee supported passage of this law.
The Atkins Diet
PCRM highlights what it says are the health benefits of avoiding dairy products and campaigns for vegetarian meals in schools. The New York Times writes that, in 2004, the Physicians Committee passed Dr. Robert Atkins's medical report to the Wall Street Journal. The report, obtained by Dr. Richard Fleming of the Fleming Heart and Health Institute, showed that Atkins himself had experienced heart attack, congestive heart failure, and weight problems. Atkins supporters countered that there was no reason to think that his heart problem (cardiomyopathy) was diet related, and that his weight at death was higher due to fluids pumped into him in the hospital.
Action against fast food
The organization's nutrition director at the time, Amy Lanou, Ph.D., criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for promoting high-fat, high-calorie products, such as certain brands of cookies and fast-food products. Susan Levin, the Physicians Committee's director of nutrition education, sent a letter in March 2009 to the minor league baseball team the West Michigan Whitecaps to object to a 4-pound, 4,800-calorie hamburger on the team's concession stand menu, and to ask that the team put a label on the burger indicating that it was a "dietary disaster."
The Physicians Committee has also spoken out against the Las Vegas restaurant Heart Attack Grill. Its menu offers burgers containing more than 9,000 calories, a diner has been hospitalized, and the unofficial spokesman died of a heart attack.
I was lovin' it
The Physicians Committee advertising campaign "I was lovin' it" is a spoof of the McDonald's advertising slogan "I'm lovin' it" and was used in a September 2010 advertising campaign. The campaign encouraged consumers to adopt a vegetarian diet to avoid the increased health risks of hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, and obesity associated with the consumption of the high levels of dietary fat, cholesterol, and sodium in McDonald's menu offerings.
The campaign launched in the Washington, D.C., area showed a grieving woman in a morgue as the camera circled around a middle-aged man draped in a white sheet and clutching a partially-eaten hamburger in his right hand. As the camera reached the man's feet protruding from underneath the sheet, the familiar Golden Arches logo appeared and the screen faded to a red background with the catchphrase "I was lovin' it," as a narrator intoned: "High cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks. Tonight, make it vegetarian." In a press release associated with the ad, the Physicians Committee stated that "McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food chain, serves a long list of high-fat, high-cholesterol items and offers almost no healthful choices."
A statement released by the Physicians Committee announced that the advertisement would be broadcast on The Daily Show and local news broadcasts starting on September 16, 2010, in Washington, D.C., a city that the group says has a higher concentration of fast food outlets than other, similarly-sized cities. The group highlighted the high levels of fat and sodium in products such as the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese Extra Value Meal, which contains 61 grams of fat and 1,650 milligrams of sodium. The organization was considering plans to roll out the campaign to Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles. The group chose Washington, D.C., as the first city for the campaign as it has the second-highest rate of deaths associated with heart disease, with 1,500 deaths annually attributed to cardiovascular conditions. The Physicians Committee plans to lobby Washington mayor Adrian Fenty to impose a ban on the construction of new fast-food dining establishments in the city.
McDonald's called the ad "outrageous, misleading and unfair" and encouraged customers "to put such outlandish propaganda in perspective, and to make food and lifestyle choices that are right for them." The National Restaurant Association, an industry business association representing more than 380,000 restaurant locations in the United States, called such ads misleading, saying that they unnecessarily focus on a single item to "distort the reality that the nation's restaurants are serving an increasing array of healthful menu choices."
The National Council Against Health Fraud described PCRM as, "a propaganda machine whose press conferences are charades for disguising its ideology as news events."
Relationship with PETA
In 2004, Newsweek explained PCRM's ties to animal rights groups:
- Barnard has co-signed letters, on PCRM letterhead, with the leader of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, an animal-rights group the Department of Justice calls a "domestic terrorist threat." PCRM also has ties to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. An agency called the Foundation to Support Animal Protection has distributed money from PETA to PCRM in the past and, until very recently, did both groups' books. Barnard and PETA head Ingrid Newkirk are both on the foundation's board.
PCRM has responded to criticism about this from groups it says are funded by the meat, dairy, or chemical industries by stating it denies any corporate affiliation with any animal protection group, and that PETA's contribution to PCRM was small.
PCRM—along with PETA and groups such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving—has been the subject of public criticism for several years by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a non-profit lobby group representing the food and beverage industry. The New York Times reported CCF's and PCRM's criticism of each other in 2004. CCF called PCRM a front for PETA, arguing that when PCRM offers health advice, they "do a very slick job of obscuring their real intentions," which is simply to oppose the use of meat, animal products and alcohol. PCRM responded that, "If you are in the business of putting veal or beef on the tables of America, and slaughtering more than a million animals per hour, and making an awful lot of money at it, you are going to try to neutralize PETA or other animal-rights groups."
American Medical Association
The American Medical Association (AMA) has criticized PCRM’s positions. In 1990, the AMA adopted a resolution condemning PCRM’s activism against the use of animals in research, objecting to PCRM "implying that physicians who support the use of animals in biomedical research are irresponsible, for misrepresenting the critical role animals play in research and teaching, and for obscuring the overwhelming support for such research which exists among practicing physicians in the United States." PCRM notes that the AMA rescinded their resolution in 2006.
Neal Barnard objected in the Journal of the American Medical Association to the use of the term "censure" to describe the resolution, clarifying, "Censure is used by the American Medical Association (AMA) for specific purposes, and PCRM has never been the subject of any such proceeding." AMA vice president Jarod Loeb replied to Barnard by stating that "[t]he term 'officially censured' refers to a resolution adopted by the AMA House of Delegates in June 1990" and that the resolution "was passed without dissenting vote."
In a 1991 news release, the AMA called PCRM a "pseudo-physicians group" and said that PCRM’s dietary advice promoting vegetarianism "could be dangerous to the health and well-being of Americans." Dr. Roy Schwartz, then a senior vice president of the AMA, told ABC News, "I think they're neither physician nor responsible." Schwartz later responded to PCRM criticism of consuming cow’s milk by asserting that the group was "made up of vegetarians with a vegetarian agenda."
PCRM has responded by acknowledging that it had disagreements with the AMA in the early 1990s over animal testing and vegetarian diets, but that the AMA stated in 2004 that its criticisms of PCRM's stance on vegetarianism did not reflect current AMA opinion.
- Healthy Eating for Life to Prevent and Treat Cancer (2002)
- Healthy Eating for Life to Prevent and Treat Diabetes (2002)
- Healthy Eating for Life for Children (2002)
- Healthy Eating for Life for Women (2002)
- "About PCRM", accessed January 11, 2011. The Physicians Committee combines the clout and expertise of more than 12,000 physicians with the dedicated actions of 150,000 members across the United States and around the world.
- Jarvis, William. "Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM)". National Center Against Health Fraud. NCAHF. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- PRIMETIME LIVE, ABC News, July 30, 1992
- "Vegetarian Foods: Powerful for Health", PCRM, accessed January 16, 2011.
- "About us", the Cancer Project, PCRM, accessed January 16, 2011.
- "Healthy School Lunches / a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) site". Healthyschoollunches.org. Retrieved 2009-09-16.
- Kleinfield, N.R. "Just What Killed the Diet Doctor, And What Keeps the Issue Alive?", The New York Times, February 11, 2004.
- Also see "A resource for physicians and laypeople with questions and concerns about high-protein diets", PCRM, accessed January 16, 2011.
- "Cookie Monsters Oreo promotion puts USDA on wrong side of obesity fight", Tallahassee Democrat, July 11, 2004, accessed January 16, 2011.
- "Warning sought for monster burger", Associated Press, March 31, 2009.
- O’Reiley, Tim. "Physicians panel lambastes Heart Attack Grill," Las Vegas Review-Journal, Feb. 13, 2013.
- "D.C. group calls for closure of Heart Attack Grill," The Associated Press, Feb. 17 2012.
- Wilson, Duff. "Doctors’ Group Attacks McDonald’s in TV Ad", The New York Times, September 16, 2010.
- Wilson, Duff. "Doctors’ Group Attacks McDonald’s in TV Ad", The New York Times, September 16, 2010. Accessed September 16, 2010.
- Staff. "'I was lovin' it' television ad enrages McDonald's", AFP, September 15, 2010. Accessed September 16, 2010.
- Honawar, Vaishali. "Provocative Commercial Targets McDonald’s High-Fat Fare: Doctors Link Washington’s Heart Disease Rates to High Concentration of Golden Arches, Other Fast-Food Outlets", Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine press release dated September 14, 2010. Accessed September 16, 2010.
- Jargon, Julie. "New Ad Targets McDonald's: Physicians' Group Seeks to Link Fast Food Consumption to Heart-Disease Rate", The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2010. Accessed September 16, 2010.
- Carmichael, Mary. "Atkins Under Attack," Newsweek, Feb. 23, 2004.
- McVey, Jeanne McVey. "A Response to Food/Tobacco Industry Attacks", PCRM, November 6, 2009.
- Mayer, Caroline E. and Joyce, Amy. "The Escalating Obesity Wars Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy", The Washington Post, April 27, 2005.
- Sharkey, Joe. "Perennial Foes Meet Again in a Battle of the Snack Bar", The New York Times, November 23, 2004.
- Guither, Harold D. Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement, Southern Illinois University, 1998.
- "A Response to Food/Tobacco Industry Attacks," PCRM, Nov. 6, 2009.
- Barnard, Neal D. "The AMA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine," JAMA, Aug. 12, 1992.
- Loeb, Jarod M. "The AMA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine-Reply," JAMA, Aug. 12, 1992.
- "Cow’s Milk: American Medical Assoc. Disputes Dr. Spock," Daily Report Card, October 1, 1992.
- "Physicians' Group Responds to Smear Tactics by Tobacco/Meat Industry Front Group," PCRM news release, Nov. 7, 2005.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Wikiversity: Ethical medical research/Alternatives to animal testing