Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Organization

Overview

“The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. PCRM is a fanatical animal rights group that seeks to remove eggs, milk, meat, and seafood from the American diet, and to eliminate the use of animals in scientific research. Despite its operational and financial ties to other animal activist groups and its close relationship with violent zealots, PCRM has successfully duped the media and much of the general public into believing that its pronouncements about the superiority of vegetarian-only diets represent the opinion of the medical community.

“Less than 5 percent of PCRM’s members are physicians,” Newsweek wrote in February 2004. The respected news magazine continued:

[PCRM president Neal] 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.” 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.

New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey put it more crisply in a November 2004 piece about PCRM’s annual airport-food ratings. “The physicians’  committee has a PETA link,” he wrote, “and its food rankings reflect that  agenda.”

While PCRM presents itself as a doctor-supported, unbiased source of health guidance, the group’s own literature echoes Newsweek’s observation that 95 percent of its members have no medical degrees. And even the five-percent doctor membership that PCRM claims is open to question. Anyone claiming to be a physician or a medical student can join without paying a dime — even if their only motivation is to collect free waiting-room reading material. Current data indicates that only 10 percent of PCRM’s members graduated from medical school.

PCRM’s anti-meat and anti-dairy tactics include newspaper op-eds and letters, campaigns against airports and school boards, and television commercials. One 2005 TV spot claims “the most dangerous thing our kids have to deal with today isn’t violence. It isn’t drugs. It’s unhealthy food.” PCRM’s prescription? “Vegetarian foods.”

The American Medical Association (AMA), which actually represents the medical profession, has called PCRM a “fringe organization” that uses “unethical tactics” and is “interested in perverting medical science.”PCRM is a font of medical disinformation. The group has argued, with a straight face, that experiments involving animal subjects “interfere with new drug development.” PCRM even rejects the consensus of the respectable medical community by claiming that animal experimentation “leads AIDS research astray.”

PCRM discourages Americans from making donations to health charities like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the American Red Cross, and even Boys Town. All because they support research that requires animals, in order to cure human diseases. PCRM’s multi-year crusade against the March of Dimes, which includes protests directed at March walkers, volunteers, and donors, has been reported widely.
Attacking Meat and Dairy
Often appearing in a lab coat, PCRM president Neal Barnard looks the part of a mainstream health expert. He also churns out a steady stream of reliably anti-meat and anti-dairy nutrition research. Although his “results” generally conclude that a vegan diet (practiced by a tiny fraction of Americans) will solve any of dozens of health problems, the mass media eats them up. And PCRM is media-savvy enough to take advantage.

But Barnard was trained as a psychiatrist, not a nutritionist. His nutritional advice boils down to one basic message: don’t eat meat, or anything that comes from animals. PCRM has complained to the Federal Trade Commission about advertisements that depict milk as part of a healthy diet. It petitioned the government to slap meat and poultry with a “biohazard label,” adding in its newsletter that eggs should carry these dire warnings as well. PCRM often uses a mixed carrot-and-stick approach to spreading its propaganda. While its ads call school lunches “weapons of mass destruction” for including meat and milk, its “report card” press releases congratulate selected schools for serving “healthy” (read: vegetarian-friendly) meals. After receiving a “failing” grade in a 2004 PCRM survey, the Albuquerque Public Schools told the press that it wouldn’t have participated if it had known the group’s real agenda. “Real physicians,” the school district’s nutrition coordinator told the Albuquerque Tribune, “would not recommend a vegan diet for growing children.”

In 1994, PCRM created an ad that suggested eating meat is “tantamount to suicide.” The ad began: “Last year, over a million people left the same suicide note.” Under that headline a handwritten note read: “Shopping list: Butter, eggs, mayo, potato chips, ham, bacon.”

A 2003 PCRM ad campaign had the same theme. The group bought a full page in the “Hospital Guide” issue of U.S. News & World Report and used the space to imply that eating meat will put you on a hospital gurney. The ad places readers in the position of a patient, looking up at surgeons, and reads: “High-Protein Diets Can Have Surprising Results.”

And so it goes with milk. PCRM claims that dairy causes “a host of medical problems like cancer, anemia, diabetes, and heart disease.” The group has compared Christopher Columbus’s introduction of cheese in the New World to the 15th-Century contagions that ravaged Native American populations. It also makes the ridiculous argument that policy makers “should think of drinking milk the same way we think of smoking cigars.”

A January 23, 2002 article by the Cybercast News Service further reveals PCRM’s duplicity:

A Harvard professor is denouncing efforts by an animal rights group to show a link between milk and cancer, accusing it of misrepresenting his  research. The group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is using the research of Dr. Daniel Cramer, M.D. to support a recent ad campaign that claims milk and dairy products contribute to “obesity, ear infections, constipation, respiratory problems, heart disease, and some cancers.”

But Cramer said those conclusions are false and that his research never supported such claims … “I think that particular group has their own sort of agenda, of not wanting milk production around, and cows to be utilized,” said Cramer. “Their agenda is that [they] don’t want … cows exploited or they want everybody to be vegetarians,” Cramer said.

Participating in Fast-Food Lawsuits

One of the most farcical aspects of American culture in the last few years has been the advent of lawsuits blaming restaurants and food companies for individuals’ obesity. Even before such cases became the stuff of late-night television comedy, PCRM was demanding tobacco-style federal lawsuits against meat producers and fast-food restaurants. Claiming that “meat consumption is just as dangerous to public health as tobacco use,” PCRM recommended that the Justice Department “begin preparing a case against major meat producers and retailers.” That was
in 1999.

In the summer of 2002, New York City attorney Samuel Hirsch filed suit against McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and KFC, alleging that the restaurant chains should be held financially responsible for some of their customers’ obesity and health problems. The suit’s lead plaintiff was an obese maintenance worker named Caesar Barber. At the time, PCRM stated that it “applauds the lawsuit filed Wednesday in a New York State court that holds four fast-food chains responsible for an obese man’s health problems.”

Less than a month after the Barber lawsuit was filed, PCRM warned doctors about possible legal action. “An ad targeting primary care physicians — with the headline ‘Could Prescribing a High-Protein Diet Put You at Legal Risk?’ — will debut the following week on The Journal of Family Practice’s Web site,” PCRM wrote in a press release. In the release, Neal Barnard alleged that doctors who prescribe high-protein diets “may be assuming serious legal liability.” When Samuel Hirsch filed a second lawsuit early in 2003 (this time blaming McDonald’s alone for the weight problems of children), Barnard’s name appeared four times in the legal complaint. One section read:

The Defendants’ [sic] allegedly distributed attractive plastic toys and booklets on what they consider to be good nutrition. One of these toys is a plastic beefsteak named “Slugger,” which flexes its toy muscles as if to suggest that meat gives strength. Dr. Neil [sic] Barnard, a physician who is the president of the Physician’s [sic] Committee for Responsible Medicine (with over 5000 members) testified that the accompanying booklet stated that eating two servings a day of foods in the meat group “can make it easier to do things like climb higher and ride your bike farther.” However, as Dr. Neal Barnard noted, the aforementioned “Slugger” representation was deceptive as foods in the meat group do not increase endurance or athletic prowess, and do not improve a child’s capacity to climb or ride, and the concept that high-protein foods are essential for endurance was proved false many years ago. See Exhibit J, Witness Statement, Dr. Neil [sic] Barnard.

In June 2003, Barnard’s book Breaking the Food Seduction went on sale. Part 1, less than 60 pages of the book, argues that meat, cheese, and chocolate — all anathema to the PETA crowd — are addictive. It’s based, writes Barnard, on work done “over the past several years at our research center in Washington, D.C.” PCRM’s press release refers to this work as “recently conducted but previously unpublicized studies.” Part 2, more than 200 pages long, makes the case for a vegan diet. The book is littered with absurd claims (page 51 insinuates that all milk and dairy foods contains morphine and other illicit drugs) and is exactly what you’d expect from an animal-rights zealot posing as a nutritionist.

Except that the press release announcing Barnard’s book was headlined:

“Nutrition Expert Provides New Ammunition for Fast-Food Lawsuits.” The release insisted that “it’s high time we stopped blaming ourselves” for overeating. Instead, PCRM argues, we should blame restaurants and the food industry. After all, Neal Barnard has declared that meat is addictive, and cheese is “morphine on a cracker” and “dairy crack”

Supersized Con Job

It’s not surprising that PCRM’s magazine gave “Super Size Me,” the anti-fast-food film polemic, “two carrots up” for pushing the absurd notion of “the addictive nature of many unhealthy foods.” After all, the flick featured only one doctor who believes food is addictive: PCRM president Neal Barnard. And in November 2004, when the film’s DVD was released, PCRM distributed copies to every member of Congress. Fast food lawsuits are the perfect cover for PCRM’s anti-meat agenda, and film director Morgan Spurlock made full use of Barnard’s addiction theories in “Super Size Me.” The movie’s soundtrack plays Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusher Man” while showing footage of Ronald McDonald. Discussing his all-McDonald’s diet, Spurlock complained: “I definitely went through serious withdrawal symptoms.”

But at the end of his 30-day fast-food escapade, Spurlock rejoiced that he was no longer forced to continue his all-McDonald’s diet. If Spurlock were truly addicted, as his claim of “withdrawal symptoms” would indicate, he couldn’t have changed his diet so easily.

Playing Chicken

PCRM has also pursued its own lawsuit against Tyson Foods. An ad campaign describing chicken as “heart healthy” ruffled PCRM’s feathers, even though the American Heart Association says that eight separate Tyson chicken products are exactly that. The bogus lawsuit also complained about the company describing its products as “all natural.” Tyson responded by noting that the USDA explicitly allows its health claims.

Once the Tyson ad campaign had run its course and PCRM had wrung the last drop of free publicity out of the episode, the lawsuit withered on the vine.

Yet PCRM continues to insist: “There’s no room for chicken in a healthy diet.” Its argument? A big non sequitur: “Chicken, no matter how smartly advertised, will never contain fiber, complex carbohydrates, or vitamin C.”

Similarly, spinach, broccoli, and carrots contribute no vitamin B-12 to the diet, contain very little protein, and offer absolutely zero in the way of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But like chicken, they have other properties to recommend them.

Exploiting the Dead and Drumming Up Lawsuits
In February 2004, PCRM ran the following advertisement in The Express, a free commuter newspaper distributed on the DC metro-rail system by the Washington Post:

Have you had serious problems on an Atkins-style, high protein, low carbohydrate diet? Were you advised by a doctor to go on the diet or did you consult with a doctor about the diet? If so, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover damages. If you believe you are injured, contact attorney Daniel Kinburn at …

Openly soliciting lawsuits against physicians — at a time when frivolous malpractice litigation runs rampant — does not represent a real conflict of interest for PCRM. After all, only 5 percent of its “members” are actual doctors. And PCRM’s not saying how many of those physicians “joined” for free.

The other (non-leather) shoe dropped in May 2004, when PCRM announced that it had enlisted a Florida millionaire named Jody Gorran to sue the late Dr. Atkins’s estate. Gorran claimed his cholesterol escalated to unhealthy levels after he followed the Atkins diet plan for 30 months – despite the fact that he weighed a svelte 148 pounds before going on the diet. Gorran insists that he’s not in it for the money. He enlisted PCRM’s help, writes The New York Times, “because they are familiar with publicity.”

This is true — PCRM is adept at using negative publicity to attack anyone supporting a diet that includes meat and dairy foods. Just a week after the “sue your doctor” ad appeared, PCRM scurrilously leaked the late Dr. Robert Atkins’s confidential medical examiner’s report to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, spurring a media frenzy that misrepresented the facts surrounding his death and unfairly painted him as an obese victim of his own diet advice. PCRM obtained Dr. Atkins’ records from Dr. Richard M. Fleming, who at the time was promoting his own vegetarian diet book. (The manner in which Fleming obtained the records is an ethical breach in and of  itself.) In its comments to the press, PCRM intentionally emphasized ambiguous information from Dr. Atkins’ medical file in an attempt to smear him as “obese” at the time of his death. Dr. Atkins, however, gained 60 pounds during the last days of his life, as he was hydrated to an unusual degree in order to maintain his blood pressure. When Dr. Atkins was initially admitted to the hospital following a head injury,
hospital records showed he was a fit 195 pounds. Details, details, details.

PCRM also attempted to blame the Atkins diet for its namesake’s heart condition. But doctors note that the root cause of this was a virus, and not diet-related. An upset Veronica Atkins decried her late husband’s attackers as “the vegetarian Taliban … They’re nasty. I’ve seen them. I’ve been to conventions, and everything else. They are nasty, nasty people,” she told Dateline NBC.

What Mainstream Doctors Have Said About PCRM
The American Medical Association (AMA) has issued several strong public rebukes of PCRM, including a 1991 statement in Newsweek by the AMA’s senior vice president for science and medical education, who said: “They are neither responsible nor are they physicians.” The most scathing AMA critique of PCRM was rescinded in 2006 after the group somehow convinced the AMA that it “does not hold that physicians who support animal research are in any way irresponsible” — a claim that strains credulity, given PCRM’s rhetoric and published writings. Nevertheless, a look at the AMA’s past complaints about PCRM sheds light on the animal-rights group’s history of conflict with mainstream medicine.

In a December 25, 1991 letter to JAMA (the AMA’s official journal), AMA scientific affairs vice president Dr. Jerod M. Loeb wrote: “the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been formally censured by the AMA for purposefully misrepresenting the critical role animals play in medical research.” Loeb also noted that PCRM “orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to JAMA” designed to promote the false impression that most doctors agreed with animal-rights positions.

Barnard responded in an August 12, 1992 letter to JAMA, claiming that “censure is used by the AMA for specific purposes, and PCRM has never been the subject of any such proceeding.”

Replying on the following page within the same issue of JAMA, Dr. Loeb shot back: The term “officially censured” refers to a resolution adopted by the AMA House of Delegates in June 1990 and noted in Dr. Barnard’s letter.

Contrary to Barnard’s statement, this resolution was debated fully in a Reference Committee hearing at which Barnard was present and at which he was given several opportunities to present his views in full. The Reference Committee heard overwhelming support for passage of this resolution and consequently recommended that it be included on the consent calendar for approval by the AMA House of Delegates. This procedure is traditionally reserved for those resolutions that the Reference Committee believes have strong and obvious support. The House of Delegates had ample opportunity to remove this item of business from the consent calendar for specific discussion on the floor of the House of Delegates but chose instead to move for passage. The resolution was passed without dissenting vote and is now official AMA policy … In their zeal to promote animal rights, PCRM shortchanges patients.

Loeb was writing about AMA Resolution H-460.963, which the AMA re-affirmed again in 2000. It reads:

“Our AMA registers strong objections to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for implying that physicians who support the use of animals in biomedical research are irresponsible, for misrepresenting the critical role animals play in research and teaching, and for obscuring the overwhelming support for such research which exists among practicing physicians in the United States.”

In a letter notifying Barnard of the resolution’s unanimous approval (July 26, 1990), the AMA wrote:

The general approach used by PCRM takes selective data and quotations, often out of context … In response to a Resolution passed unanimously at the recent AMA House of Delegates meeting, the American Medical Association calls upon the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to immediately terminate the inappropriate and unethical tactics your organization uses to manipulate public opinion.

It took over a decade and a half for the AMA to rescind its official sanction. But, in what looks to be an assurance that the decision was in no way an endorsement of PCRM’s positions, the AMA simultaneously re-affirmed another resolution (H-460.985), most of which PCRM disagrees with. In it, the AMA declares that it:

… supports continued work with other organizations to develop programs to educate physicians and the public regarding the benefits of the use of animals in research; supports continued efforts to defend and promote the use of animals in meaningful research, product safety  testing, and teaching programs; condemns illegal acts by the so-called “animal liberationists”; [and] supports the policy of obtaining animals for medical research and education from animal control units, and the studying of ways to ensure that the animals used are indeed unwanted and abandoned. 

The AMA has publicly issued several other criticisms of PCRM. A few are reproduced below.

AMA Resolution H-460.947 (1992, lapsed):

The AMA will … continue to aggressively counter fallacious claims about biomedical research being made by animal rights groups and especially those of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Medical Research Modernization Committee, two animal rights organizations that purport to speak for medicine.

AMA news release (April 11, 1991):

The AMA finds the recommendations of PCRM irresponsible and potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of Americans. [PRCM is] blatantly misleading Americans on a health matter and concealing its true purpose as an animal ‘rights’ organization.

A 1992 AMA press release blasting PCRM for starting a “milk panic”:

The American Medical Association is alarmed by today’s allegation that milk is dangerous and should not be required or recommended in government guidelines. There is absolutely no scientific proof to support such a claim … The AMA continues to marvel 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. Instead, it serves only to advance the agenda of activist groups interested in perverting medical science. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is an animal “rights” organization, and, despite its title, represents less than 0.5 percent of the total U.S. physician population. Its founder, Dr. Neal Barnard, is also the scientific advisor to People for the Ethical Treatment of animals (PETA), an organization that supports and speaks for the terrorist organization known as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

The AMA released a statement in 2004 acknowledging that it no longer has an official “policy specifically addressing vegetarian diets or the inclusion of milk in diet.” However, the AMA has never backed off from its position that PCRM is principally an animal rights group.

Other organizations have followed the AMA’s lead, including the California Medical Association (CMA). In response to PCRM’s campaign of deception against the use of animals in AIDS research, CMA’s president wrote to Neal Barnard describing an action taken by the CMA’s House of Delegates:

[The House of Delegates] voted unanimously to register the strongest objection to the lies and misrepresentations promulgated by your organization … The inability of the so-called “Physician’s Committee” to make the obvious distinction between misuse and proper use of animal research subjects has resulted in a total loss of credibility.

Big Money

Some of PCRM’s high-profile officers use their affiliation with the group to take financial advantage of an unwary public. Consider Cornell University’s Dr. T. Colin Campbell. This vocal PCRM Advisory Board member has appeared in print, warning of the supposed dangers related to dioxin in food (especially in meat). He also serves as chairman of a company called Paracelsian, Inc., which markets its own proprietary method of dioxin testing.

PCRM’s name is also used to sell “Dr. McDougall’s 12-Day Diet Meal Plan,” a product marketed by PCRM Advisory Board member John McDougall.
You can find this slick $120 bundle of vegetarian cup-a-soup meals in grocery and health-food stores, as well as in the Sharper Image 
catalog.”

Blackeye

In 2001, PCRM president Neal Barnard co-signed a series of over 40 letters (on PCRM letterhead) with Kevin Kjonaas, a former “spokesperson” for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the then-U.S.-director of the violent animal rights group SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty).

Both groups have been designated “domestic terrorist” organizations by high-ranking FBI officials. SHAC and seven of its leaders (including Kjonaas) are scheduled to face federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism charges in June 2005.

SHAC is singularly dedicated to dismantling Huntingdon Life Sciences, a biomedical research firm that (like the rest of the medical and scientific community) recognizes that breakthroughs in the study of human diseases often require research using animals as test subjects. Huntingdon’s work includes animal research to find new treatments and cures for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, AIDS, and several forms of cancer.

SHAC activists have chosen to make their feelings known by fire-bombing automobiles, smashing windows, assaulting research employees, and targeting anyone associated with Huntingdon (and their families) for around-the-clock harassment and intimidation.

Barnard and Kjonaas co-signed letters to business leaders in 32 states and 8 foreign countries, urging them not to do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences. Given SHAC’s tactics, these letters can be fairly interpreted as a threat of harassment and violence.

Jerry Vlasak

The Barnard-Kjonaas letters instructed recipients to “read the enclosed studies” — both of which were co-authored by PCRM’s Jerry Vlasak. A trauma surgeon with connections to SHAC and a deep association with PCRM, Jerry Vlasak told the crowd at the “Animal Rights 2002” convention:

I think we do need to embrace direct action and violent tactics as part of our movement … I don’t think we ought to be criticizing someone, whether we’re criticizing [them] because they’re writing letters, or whether we criticize them because they’re burning down fur stores or vivisection labs.

And at the “Animal Rights 2003” event in Los Angeles, Vlasak made a verbal slip that suggests he may be an ALF thug himself, praising those responsible for “all those hundreds of ALF actions that occurred making us the, er, making the ALF, rather, the number one domestic terrorist group in the United States.” Vlasak also openly endorsed the murder of doctors who use animals in their research:

If these vivisectors were being targeted for assassination, and call it political assassination or what have you, I think if — and I wouldn’t pick some guy way down the totem pole, but if there were prominent vivisectors being assassinated, I think that there would be a trickle-down effect and many, many people who are lower on that totem pole would say, “I’m not going to get into this business because it’s a very dangerous business and there’s other things I can do with my life that don’t involve getting into a dangerous business.” And I think that the — strictly from a fear and intimidation factor, that would be an effective tactic.

And I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on. And I think for 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.

At the 2003 conference, Vlasak was billed as a representative of PCRM. He regularly represents PCRM on issues of animal testing. He has written for PCRM’s Good Medicine magazine, and is identified there as “PCRM’s Jerry Vlasak.” In a February 2002 press release on animal experimentation in medical schools, Vlasak is called a “PCRM spokesperson.” And in Vlasak’s own writings, he has described himself as PCRM’s “scientific advisor.”

Vlasak reinforced his advocacy of violence in April 2004, telling a national cable network audience on the Showtime program “Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t” that violence is a “morally justifiable solution” for activists.

Vlasak and his wife, the former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin, are both directors of a SHAC-like group in Los Angeles called the Animal Defense League (ADL-LA). Ferdin herself is the legal president of SHAC USA. She carries business cards describing herself as a PCRM employee, but listing ADL-LA’s business address.

ADL-LA’s website candidly states that it “fully supports” the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Its president is Gary Yourofsky, a convicted ALF felon who serves PETA as its in-school “humane education presenter.”

Vlasak’s threatening animal-rights exploits have been covered by No Compromise, a magazine written by and for supporters of the ALF. Vlasak has personally been arrested several times for animal-rights-related activity, and urges others to “get arrested.”

Neal Barnard is more circumspect about violence. The Animal Rights Reporter has written of him: “Although he disavows the use of violence, he says that researchers ‘have set themselves up for it’ and ‘have to worry’ about animal rights violence. And in an interview with Washingtonian magazine, Barnard says: “We’re demoralizing the people who think there’s a buck to be made in animal research. And they’re starting to get scared, and they’re starting to get angry, and they’re starting to give way.”

Motivation

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has participated in scare campaigns about pollution from livestock farming, meat irradiation, mad cow disease, and the alleged overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. Those disparate causes have one common element: they all serve to frighten consumers away from eating meat. Which is exactly what the animal liberationists at PCRM want.

The evidence that PCRM is an animal rights group is overwhelming. In 2003, Neal Barnard was nominated for induction into the “Animal Rights Hall of Fame.” From 1989 to 1991 he served as a Contributing Editor to The Animals’ Agenda magazine, writing frequent columns on animal-rights topics.And according to the Daily Californian, in 1989 Neal Barnard told a UC Berkeley audience: “I don’t approve of the use of animals for any purpose that involves touching them — caging them.”

In a campaign against the United States Surgical Corporation (USSC) in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, PCRM brandished a petition supposedly including thousands of signatures from doctors who opposed USSC’s animal experimentation. PCRM even claimed the list had been “audited,” even though Animal People News would later write that the planned audit was “never completed.” And according to the (now defunct) Animal Rights Reporter, PCRM’s list contained “names of physicians who deny having signed or even seen the document. It also contains many names of persons who are not physicians.”

By the time PCRM trumpeted its petition in 1989, the campaign against USSC had become so intense that animal-rights militant Fran Stephanie Trutt attempted to assassinate the company’s president. PETA paid $7,500 of her legal expenses.

The PCRM-PETA Connection

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has used a tax-exempt affiliate called the Foundation to Support Animal Protection to funnel at least $592,000 to PCRM. This foundation, whose letterhead now shows that it is doing business as “The PETA Foundation,” has the same mailing address as PETA, and PETA owns its website address. Neal Barnard and PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk are two of the Foundation’s three officers. Barnard is its President.

And PETA itself directly gave PCRM over $265,000 between 1988 and 1999.

Barnard is PETA’s “medical advisor” and regularly writes for PETA’s publications. He admitted in a sworn deposition (International Primate Protection League v. Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund, 1992) that PCRM has been housed at PETA headquarters in the past. He also acknowledged requesting and receiving money from PETA, and using a PETA-owned car to drive back and forth from work. According to Barnard’s deposition, PETA even paid the salaries of some of PCRM’s staffers.

Citing an unnamed former PETA employee, a 1989 Washingtonian magazine article explains:

PETA funds were used, he says, to finance membership campaigns and activities of two anti-vivisectionist organizations, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and the National Association of Nurses Against Vivisection (NANAV). Both organizations were housed, rent-free, in PETA’s headquarters, he says, and the respective heads of the groups, Neal Barnard and Susan Brebner, were introduced to him as PETA staff members.

Hostile Takeover: The New England Anti-Vivisection Society

PCRM’s animal-rights agenda was perhaps most clearly evidenced when Neal Barnard involved himself in PETA’s successful campaign to wrest control of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). On March 20, 1989, Forbes reported:

PETA aggressively runs slates of its own people in board elections of rival rights groups. Latest is the successful 1987 “takeover” of the Boston-based New England Anti-Vivisection Society (fund balance, $8 million). The century-old group officially still operates independently, but in reality PETA vegans and allies now control the Society and its spending.

An April 10, 1987 Boston Globe article explained how PETA did it:

The wife of Gary Francione, a PETA executive and a Pennsylvania attorney, walked into the Anti-Vivisection Society’s Boston headquarters a few months ago and purchased 300 voting memberships for $3000 in cash. A surge of several hundred applications for voting memberships arrived at the headquarters in bulk March 31. PETA set up the Action Campaign Fund to subsidize or pay full air fare to Boston for an unspecified number of voting activists.

And the Boston Herald wrote on April 30, 1987 that Ingrid Newkirk:

… sought to fill four open board of directors’ seats and four officer’s positions with a slate of PETA members and friends. Some locals claimed the election was “stacked” by PETA, who bankrolled the busing of new members to the Boston election meeting from New York, Washington, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

Along with PETA founders Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco, PETA’s candidates for NEAVS board membership included Neal Barnard himself. Barnard even co-signed letters with Newkirk and Pacheco, urging NEAVS members to vote for the PETA slate. In 1987, Barnard was elected to NEAVS’ board. He and Newkirk remained there for ten years.

A coalition of NEAVS members — including some of its officers — formed an ad hoc group called the Save NEAVS Committee to fight PETA’s takeover. They disclosed a proposal signed by Ingrid Newkirk that read in part:

NEAVS has $7 to $8 million. I would suggest sharing some part of this financial well-being with other organizations which a) have proven themselves to be movement resources, b) are performing valuable services compatible with NEAVS’ goals, and c) are worth protecting. My choices are the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and the National Alliance for Animal Legislation (NAAL) … A $1,000,000 grant to each of these organizations would not come close to depleting NEAVS’ holdings. It would, however, provide each with an annual income security of approximately $100,000 if we stipulate that the grant be held as principle [sic].

Although Newkirk’s million-dollar-gift proposal was never acted upon, NEAVS did give PCRM more than $500,000 between 1989 and 1998. In a sworn deposition (IPPL v. Tulane, 1992), Barnard admitted that PCRM received no money from NEAVS before the takeover, but hundreds of thousands of dollars afterwards.

A profile of PCRM appearing in a contemporary newsletter called the Animal Rights Reporter, discusses the importance of the NEAVS takeover:

With PETA’s and NEAVS’ resources, PCRM can take on campaigns that otherwise would be financially prohibitive. For example, costs of the physicians’ petition against USSC last fall were paid for by NEAVS. This occurred at a time when NEAVS had ongoing litigation with USSC and the PCRM assault can be seen as apart of a NEAVS/PETA attack on the medical supply company. Despite long-standing denials by Barnard and PCRM that it was an animal rights group, PCRM was listed as an “affiliate” on NEAVS’ 1987 tax returns.

The connection between PETA and NEAVS was so strong that, for a time, NEAVS’ Legislative Director Cynthia Lebrun-Yaffee operated out of PETA headquarters. Barnard, Newkirk, and Pacheco are no longer on the NEAVS board, but NEAVS current executive director Theodora Capaldo was on PETA’s original 1987 slate of candidates.