A Nutrition Lesson from PETA

Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel.  He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton.  He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about the Hamas  and Jewish Enablers of the War against Israel.


0523-fr_A12_peta_0523PETA or the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” is the largest and goofiest group of “animal rights” nuts on the planet.  They consider the eating of chicken to be the moral equivalent of the Nazi Holocaust of Jews.  They advocate euthanasia of humans if it helps preserve any animals.  PETA has had ties to terrorist organizations.  Its chairwoman wrote Yassir Arafat and asked him to spare the animals while he was murdering Jews.

T. Colin Campbell is a biochemist at Cornell University.  He has also emerged as the ultimate “scientific” advocate of “vegan” diets and other features of the PETA agenda.  He has spent much of his career publishing books about nutrition, the best known of which is “The China study.”  Published in 2006, it was celebrated by much of the liberal media down to and including Oprah.  The NY Times called it “the Grand Prix of Epidemiology.” Campbell himself often appears on the Huffington Post.

While Campbell is not himself a physician, he sits on the advisory board to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an advocacy group of doctors and researchers with strong ties to PETA.  PCRM has essentially the same political agenda as PETA, down to and including prohibiting use of laboratory animals in medical research.  It received $850,000 from PETA between 1988 and 2000.   The chairman of PCRM sits on the board of the PETA Foundation and writes a medical column for Animal Times, PETA’s magazine.  The American Medical Association has called PCRM a “pseudo-physicians group” and claimed that PCRM’s dietary advice “could be dangerous to the health and well-being of Americans.”  The National Council against Health Fraud has strongly criticized PCRM’s activities as quackery.

Campbell’s main book, The China Study, is co-authored with his son, Thomas M. Campbell II, who IS a physician and teaches clinical family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.  Their book has become the new gospel of radical vegetarians and animal rights activists.

It purports to be an in-depth study of the role of nutrition in human mortality and morbidity.  It is based upon health data gathered in China, and hence its title.  But far from being a neutral exploration, the book is a naked work of advocacy for radical “vegan” diets.  Its agenda is apparent on every single page of the book.  Eating animal products, by which the authors mean not only meat but also fish, eggs and dairy products, is unambiguously unhealthy.  They claim a strict vegan diet not only makes you healthier, it also will prevent you from getting cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and many other diseases.

The reliance of the authors on Chinese data is problematic for lots of reasons.  First, Chinese data in general are notoriously suspect regarding everything.  Second, the “Study” is only partly based upon analyzing the health histories of individual people in China.  Much of it is instead based upon analysis of Chinese counties, comparing one county to the next, including regarding mortality and dietary indicators.

But there are oodles of other differences across Chinese counties besides diet.  There are sharp age differences because of internal Chinese migration, and these age differences are reflected in morbidity and mortality rates.  The climate differences across different parts of China may be the most extreme for any country on earth. China is probably the most polluted country in the world and the pollution is higher in industrialized areas (meaning wealthier areas).   All in all, their study examined 6500 Chinese individuals in 65 Chinese counties.  Neither of these is a large enough number for persuasive conclusions. Counties of China where people eat more meat may be wealthier, explaining how they can afford meat in the first place.  Wealthier Chinese may smoke more and may be better educated.  Separating all these factors to isolate the role of diet is methodologically difficult.  The authors resolve the difficulty by not trying at all to do so.  Finally, Chinese are different in lots of ways from people in other countries, so any conclusion one could derive from studying the relations between diet and health must be taken with many a grain of salt.

Even with all those caveats, many of the authors “conclusions” simply do not hold up under examination.  The MUSLIM areas of China seem to have higher life expectancy than elsewhere!  It is NOT because they are vegetarian.  Parts of Tibet, where almost everyone is a Buddhist vegetarian, have HIGH mortality rates.

The authors’ thesis may be best summed up by themselves (on page 105):  “Almost all of us in the Unites States will die of diseases of affluence.” Affluence in the world is (unfortunately, to their minds) associated with unhealthy diets, including of course eating animal products.  Throughout the book they insist over and over again that nothing good can come from eating animal products, including dairy products.  Only a 100% plant-based diet can keep one healthy.

To sell this message, the authors are not above the most cynical manipulation of data. Campbell the Father openly admits to examining the data gathered by The China Project with intention of showing associations between animal food consumption and disease. Much of the “analysis” in the book is nothing more than seeking pairs of raw correlations.  So if women with high calcium in their urine tend to have worse problems with osteoporosis and women who eat dairy tend to have more calcium in their urine, then ipso facto eating dairy causes osteoporosis.  Never mind that every gerontologist on earth urges older women to eat more dairy to prevent osteoporosis!

The problem of course is that people who ingest a lot of calcium, more than their body needs, will tend to expel the excess.  This would include older women who eat a lot of dairy.  The conclusion that osteoporosis is CAUSED by eating dairy is completely spurious and is a good example of why the authors have been dismissed as quacks. Campbell himself has admitted that his claim that eliminating dairy products from the diet helps osteoporosis is bunk.

The book was dismissed as unscientific by the “Science-Based Medicine” web site.  One reviewer there wrote: “This is a cautionary tale. It shows how complex issues can be over-simplified into meaninglessness, how epidemiologic data can be misinterpreted and mislead us, and how a researcher can approach a problem with preconceptions that allow him to see only what he wants to see.” A health blogger named Denise Minger has probably devoted the most energy and time to debunking Campbell’s work and is worth reading.

There is a well-known difficulty of strict vegans in getting enough protein.  No problem at all, insist the authors, because protein is BAD for you.  Never mind that a major factor explaining the differences in life expectancy across countries is protein intake, where more protein is associated with longer life expectancy.

They attempt to peddle this snake oil by pointing out all the bad things that come from obesity and from eating high-fat high-cholesterol foods.  No one seriously denies that obesity is a serious and growing health problem in the United States, the UK, and elsewhere.  But that hardly means protein is bad for you.

The authors are slick and sneaky when it comes to presentation of evidence.  Right after they denounce butter as the most unhealthy of animal-based foods, especially for heart disease, they present a table (page 116) that shows that the French have one of the lowest rates of heart disease on the planet.  But as everyone knows, the French guzzle butter with almost every meal and also eat globs of beef and pork!   In other cases the authors present tables and charts and simply presume their readers are too stupid to read them.  For example, they present a chart on breast cancer and dietary fat, but readers can see that there is no relationship at all between the variables! The same is true of some of their other charts.

They are a bit shady when it comes to tradeoffs. Suppose one could be convinced that there really is a positive correlation between dietary fat and breast cancer.  There could also be a hundred NEGATIVE connections between OTHER diseases and dietary fat, so the argument that fat endangers your (net) health and life expectancy would still be dubious.  As blogger Denise Minger has shown, the authors left out lots of correlations between diet and disease having the OPPOSITE direction of what their agenda demanded and they simply suppressed and ignored these in the book.

The book repeatedly insists that affluence is bad for us all, health-wise.  Yet everywhere on earth, health is positively associated with income and wealth!  But the point they miss is that affluence has been so successful in creating conditions where many other possible causes of death have been eliminated, from malnutrition to communicative disease.  So what is left are the diseases that are less effectively eliminated by means of affluence (heart disease and cancer).

Finally, the authors’ chapter near the end of the book on the conspiracies of “Big Medicine” undermines any residual credibility for the rest of the book and could have been written by 9-11 Troofers.  But as PETA nutritionists, there was not very much credibility even before this chapter.

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  • davarino

    There is a scientist where I work who is a strict vegan. I was eating lunch with him the other day and he was talking about the great benifits of his diet, then he anounced that eating meat will kill you by causing cancer. I couldnt believe he said that and other things which are kookie. After reading this I suspicion he got these ideas from these quacks, which really supprises me, because I thought he was smarter than this. Oh well, I would call him a sucker but I have been duped by other things myself that are probably just as rediculous

    • OfficialPro

      scientists are actually rather susceptible to believing this garbage, as are people who consider themselves to be smart. I believe those who have high intelligence and a correlation of “full of themselves” to boot, and want to appear “smart”, fall for this. I can’t tell you how many supposedly “intelligent” people I know who lack basic common sense to sniff out quackery.

      When questioned, the response is nearly always, “Well, it MAKES SENSE to me!”

  • Ross

    Underlying all that PETA and these medical quacks advocate are two truly evil agendas. First, to diminish the value of human life. To reject the premise held by most of Western civilization and Judeo-Christianity that human life is uniquely valuable and far above that of mere animals and because it is more valuable than that of animals more is expected of humans to be compassionate with others, to be moral, and to treat each other as the miraculous souls that we all are . Once you equate humans with animals, you can justify treating humans, both individually and collectively, as animals to be mere property that can be controlled, herded, culled, and slaughtered if needed. Second, PETA et al., always pushes for the less affluent life, which means casting aside the advantages of science and civilization and returning to primitive gatherers who shouldn’t even hunt. How many billions of human lives would die if we actually did that? Along with the PETA crowd is Human Extinction Movement, which advocates that all of humanity stop having children and just die out so the Earth and its creatures can be at peace. The self-loathing of these people and their hatred of others required for such beliefs is despicable.

    • Steve Becker

      OMG I Totally agree with you.I have been saying this for years.That is why I really hate these radical animal rights dirtbags.They are evil vile human hating scum that needs eliminated off this planet in the same category as serial killers,drug lords and gang bangers.Well stated my friend.Well stated.

  • Bargain Basement

    Cage the PETA nuts and do experiments on them, while letting the monkeys go free to run for Senate as Dems.

  • Lisa Clark-kahn

    OH MY GOD I WAS SO CONFUSED WHY THIS ARTICLE WAS SO MEAN SEEDED AND AWFUL PLUS THE COMMENTS THAT BACKED THE AWFULNESS UP BUT THEN I WAS SO PLEASED TO SEE IT WAS THE FREEDOM CONSUMER GROUP WHICH IS REPRESENTED BY EVIL NASTY GROUP INCLUDING FACTORY FARMS,TOBACCO,GUNS,LABS,BREEDERS,FURRIRES ANYTHING EVIL TO LIFE ALL LIFE ITSELF.THANK GOD ITS JUST YOU GUYS AGAIN.

    • PapayaSF

      Lisa, it’s considered rude to write in ALL CAPS.

    • Edward smith
    • Jimmie

      Lisa, cook my up a nice corned beef sandwich, will you, and wrap it up for me so I can take it deer hunting with me this morning.

    • Steve Becker

      “Golly my name is Lisa and I am stupid and intellectually and biologically challenged but let me convince you to be a hunter hating vegan”

  • Lisa Clark-kahn

    NOW I UNDERSTAND.HUMAN RIGHTS AND ANIMAL RIGHTS ARENT GOING AWAY,GOODNESS AND LOGIC WILL PREVEIL,BUT I TOTALLY DONT BLAME YOU FOR PUTTING UP A FIGHT.THE WAY YOU GUYS BASH PETA MAKES ME UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE MAKING A DIFFERNCE.

    • Sharon Bates

      Kinda funny how little Lisa can’t spell her way thru a complete sentence. Maybe her puppy typed her posting for her?

      • mtman2

        “Well”, in between tokes and smoke getting in her eyes, it’s tough, ya know?

      • Steve Becker

        That is because this urban P O S is a radical animal rights dirtbag who is constantly all over the internet.

    • Spyderman

      Yes, they ARE making a difference. The difference is that more people now know how utterly crazy they are.

  • herb benty

    As a retired logger and tug-boater I NEEDED protein most of my life. My injuries, cuts and bruises were healed by eating meat, sometimes by the next day or two. There were many times I needed a steak! Meat keeps a hardworker strong. DNA makes all the specialized proteins the body needs- it was intended to. God’s Word is clear that in the last days, they will be “forbidding to eat meat”. We are at that point and it is a lie. A weakened Western society is their goal, plain and simple.

    • mtman2

      The incredible athletes that pulled the boats and many tons of supplies over 5,000 miles for LEWIS + CLARK ate 8-9 lbs of meat a day. What they did EVERY-DAY would make the training for modern-day Olympics training pale.
      Now having said that the big Ag-Corps that push growth hormones + anti-biotics are not in the best interest of health. However smaller local farms + farmers-markets, controlled locally with county oversight and NOT USDA-armed swat teams shutting down Amish + Mennonite farmers! There is NO ROOM for jack-boot thuggery for anything in the USA except true terrorists, NOT CITIZENS!

      • herb benty

        Very good!

  • Sunny N

    Are any of you in the medical field? While I am not a doctor, I am a nurse and have studied nutrition. I do not take the vegan stance as I believe it is over the top. There is no way a person can denounce the fact that the cholesterol and fat in meat does harm to your heart. And, regarding research. Why would you want to do research on animals to find out how humans respond to certain foods. The human body is quite complicated and while you are all fussing about PETA (which by the way is radical) think about the other side of Campbell’s believing in no meats. I eat 90%/10% and have never had so much energy. Being a nurse and seeing the amount of drugs people take every day as they age is sad. Just wait until you age more and need to take pills to offset the affects of the pills you take for your chronic ailments. Yes, protein is necessary but a “Nutritarian” way of life is packed with proteins – NO cholesterol -No fats and LOTS of energy. I would luv to talk to some of you as you turn 70 if you live that long. There is no way that a healthy way of eating can hurt a person. Lets use some logic here. Yes, PETA is extreme but you also are shooting darts at a very good medical research team. FYI: My sister (younger by 2 yrs) says the same things I have read here and she has RH bad, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. My other sister who is 5 yrs younger is an overweight diabetic who takes insulin 3 times a day, has GERD, high blood pressure and needs to take meds for many other co-morbidities. I take nothing. So, you all think you know how to live longer? We shall see…. huh? Do your research folks. Find out the truth. And for heavens sake, let PETA honk their horn. As long as you live longer and healthier who cares? LOL ……

    • Katie

      Interesting, yet my chiropractic brother-in-law’s family is riddled with high blood pressure, colon cancer, and autoimmune diseases. My bodybuilding, personal trainer nephew is always in the hospital with one or another ailment, while my whiskey swilling great great aunt lived to be 105. I think it comes down to more than what we put in our mouths. I’m not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle, just saying that sometimes you can do everything right and bad things happen anyway.

    • Jeff

      Right on Sunny! Nutritarian is the way to go. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I highly recommend you read the book “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Conservatives continually talk about “personal responsibility.” Isn’t it time we took responsibility for our own health? Don’t let the PETA nuts dissuade you.

    • Spyderman

      “Why would you want to do research on animals to find out how humans respond to certain foods?”

      Because certain animals display physiological makeups that have been shown to very closely parallel those of humans.

      If you want to live healthier, get off of all sugar and suger-containing foods, avoid a lot of red meat, dairy products and “white” foods, including white bread, rice, noodles, etc., that the body turns into sugar. These foods raise the LDL, which wreaks havoc on cardiac arteries. You don’t have to be a food hermit and give up all foods, but eat lots of veggies (I am not a vegetarian)—especially green leafy ones. Sugars are found in almost all processed foods, and it’s difficult to find foods that don’t contain sugar.

      Then get out and do some exercise. Walking is fine and has been proven to equal the benefits found in jogging. Top top it off, get some good quality sleep.

      • Sunny N

        Spy D. – There are ‘many’ ways to do research and if you read the book “WHOLE” you will understand. Another book is “Building Bone Vitality” by Michael Castle. There are several reasons why doing animal research on plant based food eating would not work as well. Not able to go into major detail here. I did try to keep my post terse. But, as for the other details of your reply, you won’t get an argument from me. Fruits, veggies, legumes, etc are a great way to eat to stay healthy – limiting sugar, salt too. I just think the journalist in this posting was trying to make a connection with PETA and vegan dieting. I am conservative and truly believe that animal proteins are NOT GOOD for heart health. . PETA being over the top radical, I don’t equate with them at all. So, much more can be said on this subject. . I just don’t like to see PETA thrown out there when many are searching for the truth and realizing that what one puts in their mouth does REALLY matter. Seek and ye shall find!

  • Lisa Clark-kahn

    yep i could care less if i spell things wrong sometimes in my comment sor write in all capitals just wanted to stick up for animal rights thats all.Its a little deeper then your brains go i get it so its easier to comment on giving me some meat to cook for you or how a spell my words or use capitals when i write.silly adults.compassion is what matters and logic not how i express myself.

    • The Beav

      Say Lisa, I will give up wearing fur if you show me your fur! And I will stop hunting beavers if you show me your beaver!

  • American1969

    While I won’t disagree that the American diet is horrible, I am tired of all of the idiots out there who have taken it upon themselves to decide for everyone else what people should be eating, drinking, etc. We are adults, not children.
    If people choose to be vegan or whatever they want to do, why can’t everyone just shut up and leave each other alone? If I want to eat a burger or a steak, let me be; I’ll leave you alone with your veggies and let you be.
    Of course, this speaks to a much larger agenda of radical environmentalism. If these people think that humans are the cause of all life’s problems and need to go, why don’t these morons set the example and go first (if you know what I mean)?

  • Jeff

    Steven, did you even read the whole book? If so, you would know that the China Project was only one chapter of the entire argument — the book was poorly named by the publishers. Moreover, Campbell repeatedly says that there seem to be no benefits to eating a vegan diet over a 90% plant-based diet that includes 10% of calories from animals, so again your argument is innaccurate. The bottom line is that there is a preponderance of evidence, more coming out every day, that a plant-strong diet is the only way to prevent and reverse heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases common to Americans and Westerners at large. I’d like to refer you to a site http://www.nutritionfacts.org which continually releases more and more evidence of the disease-protectant powers of plants and the cancer-promoting qualities of too much animal protein — namely, the fact that eating too much meat or dairy raises levels of IGF-1 in the blood, which has been proven to promote cancer cell growth. It’s unfortunate that Campbell has found himself in bed with PETA, but I can assure you (I’ve talked with him) that his intentions while writing the book were not to become some sort of animal-rights diety. The animal rights nuts have unfortunately co-opted this book, among others, for their purposes, but we should all consider following Campbell’s prescription if we want to live long, healthy lives, reduce medical costs, and help prevent the looming health care crisis.

    • MikeF

      Being a conservative and touting a healthy lifestyle, including the advocacy of a plant based, vegan or vegetarian diet is one thing. We can disagree and discuss the merits, poke good natured fun at each other, but if someone is a lover of liberty, advocates a limited government, individual liberty and wants to protect the security of the greatest nation on earth, then have at the veggies and plants. We are all in this fight together.

      Plaut in his article, however, does more than talk about plant based diets. Most importantly, he connects the dots between organizations that supposedly propose a healthy lifestyle and animal rights groups that have terrorist ties or, are, simply terrorist organizations. That point should not be missed here. PETA has known ties to the Animal Liberation Front, a FBI acknowledged terrorist organization. They have caused million dollars of property damage and have committed countless crimes. One may like the “cause”, but in a society based on the rule of law, we don’t condone this sort of criminal activity.
      Hence, the word, terrorist…. I am pro life, but that hardly would make me want to ally myself with the Islamists such as the Mullahs in Iran
      or the Muslim Brotherhood. They are opposed to abortion as well. You can certainly be a conservative and respect individual liberty, property rights and the rule of law and eat beans until the end of time. Hard to be a conservative and be allied with an organization dedicated to destroying private property. I would be careful of the intertwining of “health” organizations and known terrorist organizations. Being allied on one issue hardly makes for happy long term bed fellows. And we certainly don’t need to be “a little more kind” to terrorists.

  • Elizabethdhfc

    actually the part of the study that referred to the population of China was only one chapter of the entire book. The rest of the book cited many other studies and clinical trials. I have been a vegan for 28 years. I have a full blood test every year and I have never had any deficiencies in anything, including protein. I eat a whole food diets, no processed food. I eat beans, grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. I work out almost everyday (weights) and am very rarely sick. My husband was vegetarian for 11 years and has been vegan for 2 years now. He is a sheriff and does Crossfit (a very strenuous workout) 5 days a week, some days he does 2 classes back to back. I don’t think being healthy and taking care of yourself is for the left only. I think it’s also sad when when Conservatives (I have been one my whole life) attacks a group of people so viciously and ostracizes them just because they of the way they eat or the compassion they feel for other species. When we are like that we are no better then the left. Matthew Scully (George W. Bush’s and Paul Ryan’s speech writer) is vegan and wrote a great book called Dominion about it. Bill Sammon, Steve Wynn, Mort Zuckerman and John Mackey (among many others) are all vegan, so are you guys going to attack them too as leftwing wackos? Open your eyes and realize we Conservatives can welcome and include people who agree with us politically and economically but may see other parts of life a bit differently. We need as many people as we can get on our side to get us out of this mess and I don’t think we are in any position to pick and choose who we let in our party at this point. If you guys think we are, then we are doomed. I am a proud vegan and a Conservative and feel no conflict between the two. I am sure this post will make no difference to how most of you view this issue, but I hope it helps some of you to open your minds and be a little more kind to someone a little different then you in my view of animals and health but who is ultimately fighting for the same thing as you are.

  • Alan Berskow

    Everyone who does NOT have a MD (combined with a PhD in biochemistry?) should just shut up altogether about “advice” they offer others concerning diet. You do not know what the h***ll you are talking about. And if you have a MD, limit your advice to people who request it and who have a medical condition that makes his or her diet an issue you should address. Other than that, just shut up and let people eat what they want. And lock the animal rights people up in cages!