There's been no shortage of controversy over the wildly popular Atkins diet, but this morning the debate turned nasty. Three months after buying a newspaper ad to search for disgruntled dieters willing to sue the late Dr. Atkins's estate, the immodestly misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM — few of whom are doctors) followed through by announcing a lawsuit this morning, in a private press conference hosted by PCRM leader (and PETA Foundation big-shot) Neal Barnard. News reports suggest that the PCRM-aided suit also demands "health-risk warning labels … on all Atkins products." Jody Gorran, the millionaire plaintiff, insists that he's not in it for the money. He enlisted the pseudo-medical PCRM's help, writes the New York Times, "because they are familiar with publicity." This much is true. The animal-cult-oriented PCRM has generated more negative publicity about meat- and dairy-friendly low-carb diets than anyone else. PCRM leader Barnard is fond of calling cheese "morphine on a cracker." Those in the animal rights movement, of course, follow a strict vegetarian diet — and PCRM is no exception. Readers may remember that PCRM unethically leaked Dr. Atkins's private medical records to media outlets earlier this year, in an effort to posthumously smear his image. Last November, PCRM recklessly claimed at another press conference that the Atkins diet was (literally) killing people. Headlining that press event was Dr. Richard Fleming, an Omaha physician who later passed the confidential Atkins medical file to PCRM, in violation of his medical license and federal law. In reporting about this episode, Newsweek noted PCRM's connections to the organized and underground facets of the animal rights movement:

"Less than 5 percent of PCRM's members are physicians. And Barnard has co-signed letters, on PCRM letterhead, with the leader of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty [SHAC], 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."

The connections between PCRM and SHAC may become more important in coming weeks, following the five-count federal indictment of seven SHAC ringleaders yesterday morning (Stay tuned for an in-depth report on this development tomorrow). But for the moment, news coverage will likely focus on the merits of low-carb, high-protein dieting. And why not? It's a legitimate scientific question. With any luck, though, the sensibility of taking nutrition advice from animal-rights radicals will also be addressed. Recent studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicate that low-carb diets are at least as effective as other plans. PCRM, of course, questions these findings — claiming that any diet including meat and dairy is "bad news" for cholesterol levels. However, the most recent study showed that cholesterol levels "did not change on average" among low-carb dieters. And physicians are beginning to speak up, including one medical professor at Texas Tech University who told reporters: "You really have to dig for this fact that they brought up, and they skim over the more positive things. I think it's a fairly slanted press release, actually."