Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

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Founded 1985
Founder Neal D. Barnard[1]
Focus To promote non-animal methods in research and education (opposition to animal testing) and a plant-based diet (veganism) for disease prevention
  • Washington, D.C.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., which promotes a vegan diet, preventive medicine, and alternatives to animal research, and encourages what it describes as "higher standards of ethics and effectiveness in research".[2] Its tax filing shows its activities as "prevention of cruelty to animals".[3]

Founded in 1985 by Neal Barnard, PCRM says that it "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", its primary activities include emphasizing nutrition in medical education, conducting research into healthy diets, educating people about nutrition, "shifting research from animal 'models' to human-relevant studies", and promoting "alternatives to chemical tests on animals".[4]


Healthy hospital food[edit]

The PCRM releases an annual report ranking the healthfulness of hospital food, it also encourages hospitals to replace fast food with more healthful options.[5] In January 2016, PCRM placed billboards that read "Eat more chickpeas" near hospitals with Chick-fil-As;[6] in May 2016, it spoke before the board of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and erected billboards that read "Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree".[7] In June 2016, Grady announced that its McDonald's was shutting down.[8]

2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans[edit]

When the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) announced in February 2015 that "cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption", the PCRM began working to keep cholesterol warnings in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans;[9] in March 2015, Neal Barnard presented oral testimony at the National Institutes of Health,[10] 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 PCRM placed billboards reading "#CholesterolKills" near the Texas home offices of Agriculture Committee chairman K. Michael Conaway.[11][12] In January 2016, the PCRM filed a lawsuit alleging that the DGAC recommended dropping limits on dietary cholesterol,[13] motivated by industry pressure, according to documents recovered by the PCRM 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,[14] 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".[15]

Wayne State University dog experiments[edit]

Since 2011, the PCRM has urged Wayne State University to end its heart-failure experiments on dogs. According to a 2015 review article by PCRM doctors in the American Journal of Translational Research, "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".[16] In 2015, actor and Wayne State alumna Lily Tomlin joined the PCRM in urging Wayne State to end its dog experiments;[17] in September 2015, PCRM placed billboards in Detroit that told the story of one of the dogs who died in the experiments.[18]

Ending medical school live animal laboratories[edit]

On June 30, 2016, the Washington Post reported that the University of Tennessee—the last remaining school to use animals—e-mailed the PCRM 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".[19] Over the years, the Physicians Committee demonstrated and placed billboards leading to the decision,[20][21] the University of Tennessee's announcement followed the decision by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to end live animal use in its surgery-skills training. In 2014, PCRM members had demonstrated outside the university;[22] in February 2016, the PCRM worked with Maryland State Delegate Shane Robinson to introduce a bill to end the practice in Maryland.[23] On May 18, 2016, the Baltimore Sun reported that Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine would stop using live animals.[24]

Chemical testing[edit]

Since 2007, the PCRM 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.[25]

Atkins Diet[edit]

The PCRM promotes vegetarian and vegan diets as beneficial.[26] PCRM highlights what it says are the health benefits of avoiding dairy products and campaigns for vegetarian meals in schools.[27] The New York Times writes that, in 2004, the PCRM passed Robert Atkins's medical report to the Wall Street Journal. The report, obtained by 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 suppose that his heart problem (cardiomyopathy) was diet-related.[28]

Action against fast food[edit]

The organization's nutrition director in 2004, Amy Lanou, criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for promoting high-fat, high-calorie products, such as certain brands of cookies and fast-food products.[29] Susan Levin, the PCRM'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 four-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".[30] The PCRM has also spoken out against the Las Vegas restaurant Heart Attack Grill, its menu offers hamburgers containing more than 9,000 calories; a diner has been hospitalized and the unofficial spokesman died of a heart attack.[31][32]

The Physicians Committee advertising campaign "I was lovin' it", a spoof of the McDonald's advertising slogan "I'm lovin' it", was used in a September 2010 advertising campaign encouraging consumers to adopt a vegetarian diet to avoid the health risks associated with the high levels of dietary fat, cholesterol, and sodium in McDonald's food. 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.[33] The group highlighted the high levels of fat and sodium in products such as the "Double quarter pounder with cheese extra value meal", which at the time contained 61 grams of fat and 1,650 milligrams of sodium.[34][35] The group chose Washington, D.C., as the first city for the campaign because it had the second-highest rate of deaths associated with heart disease.[36] 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 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".[33]


Relationship with PETA, criticism from industry[edit]

PCRM's relationship with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was highlighted in the 2000s. Barnard wrote a column, "Doctor in the House" for PETA's magazine, Animal Times. Barnard and PETA president Ingrid Newkirk both sat on the board, until 2005, of the Foundation to Support Animal Protection, a PETA-related group that donated $592,000 to PCRM in 1999 and 2000. PETA itself gave PCRM $265,000 between 1988 and 1999.[1] According to a 2004 Newsweek article, "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.'"[37]

PCRM has responded to criticism about this from groups it says are funded by the meat, dairy, or chemical industries by stating that it denies any corporate affiliation with any animal protection group, and that PETA's contribution to PCRM was small.[38] 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 from the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), which lobbies on behalf of the food and beverage industry.[39] 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."[40]

American Medical Association[edit]

In June 1990, the American Medical Association passed a resolution objecting to PCRM's opposition to animal research and criticizing it for, as the AMA saw it, misrepresenting the role animals play in research and the support for that research among physicians in the United States.[41] Barnard objected in the Journal of the American Medical Association to a December 1991 article by Jerod Loeb of the AMA that said the group had "officially censured" PCRM. Barnard wrote: "Censure is used by the American Medical Association (AMA) for specific purposes, and PCRM has never been the subject of any such proceeding."[42] Loeb replied 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".[43]

In a 1991 news release, the AMA said that PCRM's dietary advice promoting vegetarianism "could be dangerous to the health and well-being of Americans",[44] the AMA stated in 2004 that its criticism of PCRM's dietary recommendations did not reflect current AMA opinion.[45] According to Barnard, the disagreements between PCRM and the AMA are in the past; he said in 2017 that his articles are published by AMA journals and that he had addressed a recent AMA annual conference.[46]


  1. ^ a b Wadman, Meredith (June 2006). "Profile: Neal Barnard". Nature Medicine. 12 (6): 602. doi:10.1038/nm0606-602. PMID 16760995. 
  2. ^ "About PCRM". Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  3. ^ IRS filing of Publication 78
  4. ^ "About us", Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
  5. ^ "Doctors fight to ban fast food from hospitals—for good reason". Participant Media. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Hospitals face ad blitz over Chick-fil-A, other fast food in cafeterias". Healthcare and Finance News. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  7. ^ Stafford, Leon. "Doctors' group to Grady: Dump McDonald's location". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  8. ^ "McDonald's at Grady closes amid complaints by doctor group". Georgia Health News. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  9. ^ "Part D. Ch 1: Food and nutrient intakes". Dietary Guidelines 2015 Advisory report. p. 2. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Public Meeting - 2015 Advisory Report". Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  11. ^ "Science's war on breakfast: First bacon, now eggs". Dallas News. October 26, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Opening statement: Chairman Conaway: Development of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines". House Committee on Agriculture. October 7, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  13. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (January 7, 2016). "New dietary guidelines urge less sugar for all and less protein for boys and men". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ "A closer look inside healthy eating patterns - 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines". Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  15. ^ Warshaw, Hope (March 21, 2016). "What nutrition experts think is missing from the new Dietary Guidelines". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  16. ^ P Charukeshi Chandrasekera; John J Pippin (2015). "The human subject: an integrative animal model for 21st century heart failure research" (PDF). Am J Transl Res. 7 (9): 1636–1647. PMC 4626425Freely accessible. PMID 26550463. 
  17. ^ "Lily Tomlin urges end to animal research at Wayne State". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  18. ^ "Billboard targets WSU's use of dogs in research". The Detroit News. September 16, 2015. 
  19. ^ "One last U.S. medical school still killed animals to teach surgery. But no more." The Washington Post. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  20. ^ "Protest at UT Health Science Center targets use of live pigs in medical training". Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  21. ^ "Billboards decry Chattanooga medical program's use of live pigs". Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  22. ^ Cohn, Meredith. "Hopkins medical school criticized for using pigs as part of training". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  23. ^ Cohn, Meredith. "Bill would prohibit Hopkins from using pigs to train doctors". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  24. ^ Cohn, Meredith. "Johns Hopkins medical students will no longer train on live animals". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  25. ^ Eilperin, Juliet. "Sweeping overhaul of nation's chemical-safety laws clears final legislative hurdle". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 7, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Vegetarian and vegan diets", PCRM. Retrieved January 16, 2011.
  27. ^ "Healthy School Lunches / a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) site". Retrieved September 16, 2009. 
  28. ^ Kleinfield, N.R. (February 11, 2004). "Just what killed the diet doctor, and what keeps the issue alive?", The New York Times.
  29. ^ "Cookie Monsters Oreo promotion puts USDA on wrong side of obesity fight", Tallahassee Democrat, July 11, 2004. Retrieved January 16, 2011.
  30. ^ "Warning sought for monster burger", Associated Press, March 31, 2009.
  31. ^ O'Reiley, Tim. "Physicians panel lambastes Heart Attack Grill," Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 13, 2013.
  32. ^ "D.C. group calls for closure of Heart Attack Grill," The Associated Press, February 17, 2012.
  33. ^ a b Wilson, Duff. "Doctors' group attacks McDonald's in TV ad", The New York Times, September 16, 2010.
  34. ^ 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", PCRM (press release) dated September 14, 2010. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
  35. ^ Staff. "'I was lovin' it' television ad enrages McDonald's", Agence France-Presse, September 15, 2010.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ Carmichael, Mary. "Atkins Under Attack", Newsweek, February 23, 2004.
  38. ^ McVey, Jeanne McVey. "A Response to Food/Tobacco Industry Attacks", PCRM, November 6, 2009.
  39. ^ Mayer, Caroline E. and Joyce, Amy. "The Escalating Obesity Wars Nonprofit's Tactics, Funding Sources Spark Controversy", The Washington Post, April 27, 2005.
  40. ^ Sharkey, Joe. "Perennial Foes Meet Again in a Battle of the Snack Bar", The New York Times, November 23, 2004.
  41. ^ Guither, Harold D. (1998). Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement, Southern Illinois University Press, p. 123.
  42. ^ Barnard, Neal D. (August 12, 1992). "The AMA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine", JAMA. 268(6):788–789. PMID 1640584
  43. ^ Loeb, Jerod M. (August 12, 1992). "The AMA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine-Reply", JAMA, 268(6):789.
  44. ^ Primetime Live, ABC News, July 30, 1992.
  45. ^ "AMA statement", American Medical Association, February 10, 2004.
  46. ^ Mondloch, Helen (20 October 2017). "Living well with Dr. Neal Barnard", NorthernVirginia.

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