Animal rights zealots will do anything for attention, even if it means attacking a fundraiser for cancer research. The misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a front group for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is protesting the American Cancer Society’s “Cattle Barons’ Ball” events. The western-themed galas have raised more than $20 million for cancer research over the past 30 years. But PCRM will do anything to advance its vegetarian-only, animal rights agenda — even jeopardize the search for a cancer cure and endanger Americans’ health.

Just last year, PCRM issued a wildly irresponsible press release claiming that “dairy products are especially dangerous for children.” Numerous studies have debunked this absurd notion, including one recently published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that found children who avoided drinking cow’s milk had a higher risk of suffering broken bones.

In an attempt to capitalize on the mad cow scare earlier this year, PCRM tried to deceive and alarm the 50 biggest U.S. school districts by urging them to “replace beef and other meaty items” with vegetarian cafeteria meals. Never mind that Harvard University experts have declared the risk of Americans contracting mad cow disease is “as close to zero as you can get.”

And even before frivolous obesity lawsuits became the stuff of late-night television comedy, PCRM was demanding tobacco-style torts against meat producers. Claiming that “meat consumption is just as dangerous to public health as tobacco use,” PCRM recommended in 1999 that the U.S. Department of Justice “begin preparing a case against major meat producers and retailers.” Last year, PCRM president (and PETA Foundation president) Neal Barnard even promoted his ridiculous meat and dairy “addiction” theories to trial lawyers suing fast-food restaurants.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has written in the past that it “finds the recommendations of PCRM irresponsible and potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of Americans.” In a separate public censure, the AMA marveled at “how effectively a fringe organization of questionable repute continues to hoodwink the media with a series of questionable research that fails to enhance public health.”

We can only hope that PCRM limits its activism to phony food scares and ridiculous health claims. In a chilling interview broadcast on the Showtime cable network last week, PCRM spokesman Jerry Vlasak insisted: “If someone is killing, on a regular basis, thousands of animals, and if that person can only be stopped in one way by the use of violence, then it is certainly a morally justifiable solution.”