USDA Panel Backs Doctors' Complaints against Milk Ads
Ads with Kristi Yamaguchi, Marc Anthony, Mark McGwire, and Others Make False Health Claims
WASHINGTON—A newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expert panel report largely supports complaints raised by a physicians' organization that many "milk mustache" and "got milk?" advertisements make untruthful health claims. The panel was convened in response to a petition filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit health advocacy and research organization.
The petition, which was filed with the Federal Trade Commission in July 2000, alleged that milk ads like those featuring Kristi Yamaguchi and Mark McGwire have no scientific basis for suggesting that milk consumption improves sports performance. The USDA panel, including experts from four U.S. universities, concluded "there are no data to support the belief that milk per se benefits sports performance."
Most importantly, the panel also agreed with the doctors that whole milk consumption may increase the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. The panel recommended that ads promoting whole milk should indicate these health risks.
"At least 16 research studies now link milk consumption to prostate cancer, and milk fat is also linked to heart disease," said Neal D. Barnard, M.D., PCRM president. "It's time ads stop pretending there are no health risks from drinking milk."
The USDA experts also took issue with milk ads suggesting that calcium intake alone can prevent osteoporosis, noting that exercise and nutrients other than calcium are important for bone health. These factors were wrongfully omitted in dairy industry ads featuring Marc Anthony, Elton John, Carson Daly, and others.
"We should think of drinking milk the way we think of smoking cigars," Dr. Barnard said. "Some people like it, some hate it, but it is not necessary and, in fact, carries health risks that people need to be aware of."
The USDA panel failed to address some of the issues raised by PCRM's petition, but did concur with PCRM on many of the ones it did review. The USDA's report was presented to the Federal Trade Commission, which must now decide whether to order the offending ads withdrawn and to disallow future ads making similar claims.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.