A Tennessee newspaper recently provide an excellent example of how the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine distorts genuine medical research. Notice the difference between the reporter’s accurate summary of a recent study about dairy products and prostate cancer, and Neal Barnard’s snap judgement,
A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health raised the possibility
that consuming lots of dairy products could modestly increase the risk of
prostate cancer. The study stressed the case was far from settled and
recommended further study of calcium’s effects on health.
“Dairy products cause hormonal changes in a man’s body that increase the risk
of prostate cancer,” said [Neal] Barnard, a psychiatrist and nutrition researcher
with Georgetown University.
For the activists, any study which finds a correlation for something they agree with becomes instant proof that they are right, while studies that find correlations which the activists don’t agree with (such as those finding some advantages for eating fish) are either ignored or dismissed out of hand.
Group Targets Mississippi Because Of High Prostate Cancer Death Rates. The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), June 13, 2001.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is asking the federal government to remove the dairy
requirement from the food pyramid because large numbers of minorities
are lactose intolerant. PCRM is getting support for its efforts from Rev.
Jesse Jackson, former surgeon general Jocelyn Elders, and the Congressional
Black Caucus Health Braintrust.
The food pyramid recommends
two to three daily servings of dairy products. The PCRM recommendations
claims are a bit bizarre. First, although minorities are disproportionately
lactose intolerant, there are plenty of white folks that suffer from lactose
intolerance as well. I personally know about half a dozen people who are
not minorities and severely lactose intolerant – the kid next door vomits
rather violently if he eats cheese. One of my family members cannot drink
milk without getting sick and as a child I had similar, though milder,
problems with dairy products (even today although I can tolerate it, I
cannot stand milk). The food pyramid guidelines were never meant to be
universally applicable to everyone.
Second, most people suffering
from lactose intolerance generally have milder symptoms and often only
intermittently; only a small percentage suffer from the severe symptoms
PCRM is complaining about. But this doesn’t seem to phase PCRM’s |Neal
Barnard| who told the Sacramento Bee, “Milk shouldn’t be required.
It should be optional. It has health risks and takes a particular toll
on certain people.”
But that is also true of almost
any food. I cannot drink orange juice without experiencing stomach discomfort.
A friend of mine has to avoid sulfates or risk potentially fatal consequences.
Other people can’t eat peanuts. The list goes on and on. If the goal is
a food pyramid that takes into account any food that “takes a particular
toll on certain people” it is going to have to be as big as the real
pyramids in Egypt.
Besides as many dieticians
point out, PCRM’s recommendations aren’t likely to be all that more appealing
to people than dairy. Certainly people can get their recommended daily
allowance of calcium from broccoli or beans or even sardines, but as UC
Davis Medical Center dietitian Craig Petersen puts it, “very few
people will consume enough vegetables to get the calcium they need.”
Calling food pyramid biased, group fights dairy requirement. Stephanie McKinnon McDade, Sacramento Bee, March 17, 1999.
Sometime this year,
the March of Dimes’ Walk America event will reach an incredible milestone
— it will have raised over $1 billion since its inception in 1970. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine could not pass up this opportunity and
is seeking activists to leaflet at upcoming Walk America events to “shine
a spotlight on the dark side of the March of Dimes” (has Neal Barnard
seen Star Wars once too often?)
According to PCRM,
not only has March of Dimes-funded research produced no progress in preventing
birth defects, but in fact the charity has intentionally ignored the
best solutions to solving birth defects (which, of course, do not require
This is just the
sort of ridiculous distortion that led the American Medical Association to condemn PCRM in 1991 for “misrepresenting the critical role animals play in research.” Apparently Barnard and company still haven’t figured
PCRM needs volunteers. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Press Release, January 1999.