The pot calling the not-quite-kettle black
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine came under fire recently for suing fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King for serving grilled chicken containing carcinogens. The slam came from the Center for Consumer Freedom, which calls PCRM a “phony ‘physicians’ group” who would “rather save lab rats than cure cancer and AIDS.”
In its pursuit of “truth,” the CCF has created websites like PhysicianScam.com, as well as FishScam.com and Trans-fat Facts.com, where it refutes information about the dangers of eating fish and trans-fats-containing foods—information it says has been fabricated by the “food police”—and promotes their consumption instead.
The group calls PCRM “animal rights zealots” and “radical animal rights activists.” And CCF’s director of research, David Martosko, used the lawsuits as an opportunity to scare people away from a plant-based diet: “The federal government and the American Cancer Society agree that there’s nothing dangerous about eating a chicken sandwich. But letting animal rights activists slowly force us into vegetarianism could be hazardous to everyone’s health. The last time I checked, Americans were getting sick from spinach, not grilled chicken.”
Right. While we’re all concerned about the E. coli contamination of spinach and lettuce, let’s not forget the source of that contamination: the manure of farmed cattle. (Now it’s thought that wild pigs could have spread the bacteria in the cow’s manure. A sensible conclusion since it does less harm to profits to cull wild animals than farmed ones…though now even wild boar are finding their way into someone’s wallet.)
As for the group’s claim that PCRM is not what it appears to be and that it has an ulterior motive for advocating vegetarianism and veganism, how about this: Richard Berman, who runs the Center for Consumer Freedom through his PR firm, Berman & Co., has served as a lobbyist for Steak & Ale Restaurants, and his company has ties to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Sutter Home Winery, Philip Morris (which owns Kraft Foods and Oscar Meyer), and, oh yeah, National Steak & Poultry. So it’s not surprising that CCF advocates eating chicken despite PCRM’s carcinogen-revealing tests. (Let’s not even discuss the fact that the 53rd death from bird flu just occurred in Indonesia, bringing the total to 148 deaths and 253 cases of bird flu worldwide.)
CCF’s motives for advocating a poultry- and meat-based diet are pretty clear. So what does PCRM gain from promoting a plant-based diet—apart from the health and welfare of humans and animals, of course? If the CCF is worried about conflicts of interest, it should focus instead on people like former FDA chief Lester M. Crawford, who, in addition to owning shares of Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Medtronic, and Boston Scientific, had stock in Embrex, “an F.D.A.-regulated poultry biotechnology company where he formerly served as a director.” Crawford also had a stake in Pepsico, while he was chairman of an FDA “Obesity Working Group that among other tasks was reviewing calorie content labeling for soft drinks. At the time, prosecutors said, [he and his wife] held 1,400 shares of Pepsico worth at least $62,000, as well as 2,500 shares of Sysco, which specializes in supplying food to restaurants and institutions, worth at least $78,000.”
And what about our government, whose Beef Checkoff Program “was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.” Thanks to this program, beef sales are promoted at, for example, the restaurants of the TravelCenters of America chain—and this marketing actually qualifies as “government speech.” No blurring of boundaries there.
I’ve always found it mind-boggling that when organizations like PCRM work to protect human health and alleviate the suffering of other species, some group comes out of the woodwork to attribute nefarious motives to their actions. I guess that’s to be expected when you’re putting public health and interspecies welfare above profits. But then again, it’s not just profits they’re up against; it’s ignorance, too. A PETA campaign that equates feeding meat to kids with child abuse is getting a lot of flak (admittedly, the use of the term “child abuse” is pretty inflammatory). But here it’s doctors who are speaking out against the campaign, citing, among other reasons: “Meat is part of a healthy diet for growing children,” and “…it is irresponsible to—without qualification—discourage them from eating meat.”
Never mind beef’s fat content, and all those hormones and antibiotics. Or that there are other, healthier ways to get the necessary iron and protein. Or that a vegan diet may more effectively treat type 2 diabetes than even oral medications. I admit, there is one thing eating a plant-based diet won’t provide us with: mad cow disease. (And I’ll bet that the U.S.’s decision to run fewer tests for mad cow had nothing to do with the fact that Japan was preparing to resume importing beef from us.) And lest our salads get all the attention, more than 5,000 pounds of beef were recalled due to E. coli recently, following an earlier recall of several thousand pounds of meat as recently as August.
So to Berman and his CCF cohorts, I say, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Especially not carcinogen-laden ones, aimed at people who are working to promote the health of people and the planet instead of lining the meat and poultry industries’ pockets.