Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
|Founder(s)||Neal D. Barnard|
|Focus(es)||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 organization based in Washington, D.C., which promotes a vegan 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.
PCRM has a paid staff of 35, with a membership of approximately 10,000 physicians and 150,000 supporting members, including dietitians, psychologists, nurses, other science and health professionals, and laypeople. Its board of directors consists of Neal Barnard, a psychiatrist; Russell Bunai, a pediatrician; Mindy Kursban, its chief legal counsel; Mark Sklar, an endocrinologist; and Barbara Wassermann, an internist. Its director of research is Chad B. Sandusky, formerly with the Environmental Protection Agency. Elizabeth Kucinich is the group's director of public affairs.
As of January 2011, its advisory board consists of:
- T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University
- Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., The Cleveland Clinic
- Suzanne Havala Hobbs, Dr.PH., M.S., R.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Henry J. Heimlich, M.D., Sc.D., The Heimlich Institute
- Lawrence Kushi, Sc.D. Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente
- John A. McDougall, M.D., St Helena Hospital
- Virginia Messina, M.P.H., R.D., Nutrition Matters, Inc.
- Milton Mills, M.D., Gilead Medical Group
- Myriam Parham, R.D., L.D., C.D.E., East Pasco Medical Center
- William Roberts, M.D., Baylor Cardiovascular Institute
- Andrew Weil, M.D., University of Arizona
Nutrition and exercise
PCRM promotes a vegetarian or vegan diet, together with aerobic and weight-bearing exercises and exposure to sufficient sunlight for vitamin D production. It writes that vegetarian diets are low in saturated fat, high in dietary fiber, contain phytochemicals that PCRM argues help prevent cancer, and contain no cholesterol. Its website cites several studies that it says show that vegetarians are less likely than meat eaters to develop cancer. It argues that a vegetarian diet can help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, can prevent and may reverse diabetes, and that it may improve the symptoms of a number of other conditions. PCRM runs the Cancer Project, which suggests a vegan diet will help with cancer prevention, and that offers nutritional assistance to cancer patients.
PCRM argues for the health benefits of avoiding dairy products—Barnard has called cheese "dairy crack"—and campaigns for vegetarian meals in schools. It also runs a website that collects reports of adverse health effects experienced by people on the Atkins diet. The New York Times writes that it was PCRM who in 2004 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.
The organization's founder, Neal Barnard, M.D., has published dozens of peer-reviewed papers on nutrition in journals such as The American Journal of Cardiology, The Lancet Oncology, and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Nature wrote in 2006 that PCRM had become "an endless source of vexation for federal nutrition-policymakers," but that Barnard's position had some support within the medical community. William Roberts, a PCRM adviser, executive director of the Baylor Cardiovascular Institute, and editor of the American Journal of Cardiology said of Barnard. "He's a superb man. Anybody who devotes their life like he has done to getting us all on the right dietary track, I admire."
Action against fast food
The organization's nutrition director, Amy Lanou, Ph.D., has 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, PCRM's staff dietitian, sent a letter in March 2009 to the minor league baseball team the West Michigan Whitecaps to complain about 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".
PCRM has also spoken out against the Las Vegas restaurant Heart Attack Grill, whose menu offers burgers with over 9,000 calories, after a customer was hospitalized and an unofficial spokesman died of a heart attack.
I was lovin' it
The PCRM advertising campaign "I was lovin' it" is a spoof of the McDonald's advertising slogan "I'm lovin' it" used in an advertising campaign launched in September 2010 that encourages consumers to adopt a vegetarian diet in order 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 shows a grieving woman in a morgue as the camera circles around a middle-aged man draped in a white sheet clutching a partially eaten hamburger in his right hand. As the camera reaches the man's feet protruding from underneath the sheet, the familiar Golden Arches logo is displayed and the screen fades to a red background with the catchphrase "I was lovin' it" as a narrator intones: "High cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks. Tonight, make it vegetarian." In a press release associated with the ad, the PCRM 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."
The statement released by the PCRM 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. PCRM 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. PCRM 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."
Position regarding research
PCRM sees the prescription of unnecessary drugs—drugs that may have toxic side effects—to adults and children as unethical, seeing it as human experimentation; it cites its opposition, for example, to giving children growth hormones to make them taller.
It also opposes animal testing. The group has helped to oppose research by the U.S. military that involved shooting cats, narcotics experiments conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and experiments that involved monkeys mutilating themselves. Its research department promotes alternatives to the use of animals, including their use in experiments in medical schools. PCRM argues that animal experiments are ineffective because inter alia the pain and stress animals experience in laboratories—isolation, confinement, noise, and lack of exercise—contaminate the results of the experiments. They argue that research into "immune function, endocrine and cardiovascular disorders, neoplasms, developmental defects, and psychological phenomena are particularly vulnerable to stress effects."
Relationship with PETA
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the foundation that manages it—the Foundation to Support Animal Protection, also known as the PETA Foundation—donated over $850,000 to PCRM between 1988 and 2000, and Barnard sat on the Foundation's board until 2005. Barnard also writes a medical column for Animal Times, PETA's magazine.
In 2004, Newsweek explained PCRM's ties to animal rights group:
- 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 has no 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, dairy 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."
Criticism from the American Medical Association
The American Medical Association (AMA) has criticized PCRM’s positions. In 1990, the AMA adopted a resolution condemning PCRM’s activism on 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 this resolution was rescinded 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.
- For number of staff, see "Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine", Better Business Bureau, accessed January 11, 2011.
- For the list, see "About PCRM", accessed January 11, 2011.
- For Russell Bunai's background: Francis, Raymond. Never Be Sick Again. Health Communications, Inc, 2002, p. 99.
- For Mindy Kursban: "Staff profile Mindy Kursban: PCRM’s First Executive Director", Good Medicine, PCRM, Spring 2005.
- For Mark Sklar: Sklar, Mark. "A Doctor's Reflections on Health-Care Reform", The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2009.
- For Barbara Wassermann: "Drs. Barbara and Marty Wasserman: Helping the Community Get Healthy and Humane", Good Medicine, PCRM, Summer 2008.
- "Extreme Makeover: One Scientist’s Story", Good Medicine, PCRM, Winter 2005.
- Also see "Research Issues Experts", PCRM, accessed January 12, 2010.
- Roberts, Roxanne and Argetsinger, Amy. "Mrs. K wants to give the big apes a break", The Washington Post, October 29, 2009.
- "Vegetarian Foods: Powerful for Health", PCRM, accessed January 16, 2011.
- "About us", the Cancer Project, PCRM, accessed January 16, 2011.
- Wadman, Meredith. "Profile: Neal Barnard", Nature, 12, 602 (2006): "The foundation gave Barnard's group $592,000 in 1999 and 2000. PETA also directly donated another $265,000 between 1988 and 1999."
- "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.
- Neal D. Barnard, M.D., nealbarnard.org, accessed January 16, 2011.
- Also see Wadman, Meredith. "Profile: Neal Barnard", Nature, 12, 602 (2006).
- "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.
- "Research Advocacy", PCRM, accessed January 16, 2011.
- "PCRM Position Paper on Animal Research", PCRM, approved July 21, 2010, accessed January 16, 2011.
- 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.
- "AMA refutes validity of 'Physician’s Group' Report," AMA press release, April 11, 1991.
- PRIMETIME LIVE, ABC News, July 30, 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.