Unless you’re among the bean-sprout-sized minority of Americans who describe themselves as "vegans" (vegetarians who also won’t touch milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, or even a dollop of honey), you may have been alarmed by the publicity surrounding an article appearing last month in the journal Pediatrics. The anti-milk piece — written by activists from the PETA-affiliated Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) — concluded that feeding milk to children is unnecessary, and that there are better ways (kale, tofu, turnip greens, or spinach, for instance) for kids to get the calcium they need.
In reaching this result, PCRM relied on only a few dozen of the nearly 1,000 available studies about milk and bone health, while ignoring the practical problem of getting children to eat the eight cups of cooked spinach required to replace the calcium in a small glass of milk. Does this attack on milk sound like the leading edge of an animal-rights campaign? It is. Neal Barnard, co-author of the Pediatrics article, is PCRM’s president. He’s a non-practicing psychiatrist, not a pediatrician. Barnard is also president of the PETA Foundation ( click here to see its tax return, and scroll to page 25) — the organization that owns PETA’s real estate, issues its payroll checks, and funds its many overseas offices. This means Barnard is arguably one of the two most powerful people at PETA.
No wonder Barnard’s research claims that there is "no evidence to support the notion that milk is a preferred source of calcium." That’s exactly what you’d expect PETA to say. The same PETA that believes a dairy cow’s life is as valuable as that of any human being. A Pediatrics editorial accompanying PCRM’s study put things in a more constructive perspective:
The National Academy of Sciences [says] that the immediate goal of pediatric health care providers is still to achieve maximum peak bone mass in our adolescent patients. What is the best way to achieve this goal? A calcium intake of 1300 mg/day will cause no harm that we know of, and the National Academy of Sciences has set an upper limit of 2500 mg/day for this age group. The easiest way to achieve this level of intake is to consume dairy products.
Another voice of reason came in 2001 from a "Special Committee" assigned by the USDA to evaluate PCRM’s complaints against the popular "milk moustache" advertising campaign. According to the committee’s findings of "scientific consensus":
[I]ncreased calcium intake, especially from dairy products, increases bone density in childhood and adolescence … [C]ow milk consumption at currently recommended intakes is likely to be beneficial [for bone health at all stages of the life cycle."
The coup de grace came in the form of Congressional testimony offered in 2003 by Creighton University medical professor Robert Heaney, a world-renowned expert on osteoporosis and bone health. There is ample evidence, Heaney told Congress, that "there are effectively no substitutes for dairy foods if we are to meet the nutritional needs of our school age children … The arguments raised against the healthfulness of milk are scientifically groundless." Heaney continued:
I think it is useful to recognize the origin of the anti-milk campaign — and it is literally a campaign. If one checks carefully, one finds that behind most of the stories is an organization called the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its sister organization, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). These are animal rights organizations that oppose the use of any animal product — leather, fur, meat, or milk.
Despite being "outed" as a PETA affiliate before the U.S. Congress, PCRM’s hostility toward dairy foods continues unabated. In one of his books, Barnard writes that feeding kids meat and milk "is a form of child abuse." (That same message now shows up on PETA billboards.) Ten years later, Barnard wrote that milk was itself an addictive drug. "Cheese," he told a Food and Drug Administration panel, is "dairy crack" and "the purest form of the [milk] drug." [Click here for video and forward to 03:24:38.] Just how dedicated is the "Physicians Committee" to exiling milk from Americans’ diets?
PCRM publicly objected to a U.S. Senator’s proposal to put milk vending machines in every American public school.
PCRM contends that juvenile diabetes is caused by milk consumption — a claim that endocrinologist Dr. Ines Guttman-Bauman of Children’s National Medical Center calls "complete nonsense." PCRM also alleges milk’s complicity in everything from asthma and allergies to breast cancer.
In 2002, PCRM filed a legal petition against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming school lunches that include milk "discriminate against minorities. "
On a vegetarian message board in December, a PCRM nutritionist issued a plea for help collecting examples of how schools encourage kids to drink milk. "We’re looking for anything promoting dairy milk," she wrote, "from posters to classroom materials. If any of your kids have digital cameras or cameras on their cell phones and could take pics of what they see, that would be great."
This month, PCRM asked its supporters for help gathering information that could be used to sue dairy producers. "PCRM," the group’s e-mail read, "would like to bring a lawsuit against the dairy industry for false advertising."
Last month’s Pediatrics study carried a curious disclaimer that declared PCRM’s authors had "no conflict of interest." If being a part of the animal-rights movement (and maintaining alliances with the movement’s violent fringe, as we discussed yesterday) doesn’t disqualify you from analyzing the nutritional benefits of milk, it’s hard to imagine what would.