The Physicians Committee at 30, Past, Present, Future
Thirty years ago, the wide-ranging health benefits of a vegetarian diet—let alone a vegan one—were unknown to many people, including physicians. Animal testing was status quo. And training on live animals was the norm for medical students across the
country. That all changed when Neal Barnard, M.D., founded the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
in April 1985.
Over the past three decades, the Physicians Committee has achieved unprecedented successes that have greatly improved medicine and research, saving the lives of people and animals. The influence of the Physicians Committee’s experts,
members, and supporters—including doctors, dietitians, scientists, and laypeople—keeps growing.
Today, more and more people understand that improving human health is dependent on getting animals off of plates and out of laboratories. The meat group has been dropped from U.S. diet guidelines. Vegan diets are mainstream—embraced by everyone from Beyoncé to Sen. Cory Booker to Kim Williams, M.D., president of the American College of Cardiology.
The majority of Americans now oppose the use of animals in research, according to the Pew Research Center. And the number of North American medical schools using live animals to teach students has dropped from 187 to 4.
Despite the overwhelming progress and cultural shift the Physicians Committee has brought about in the past 30 years, important challenges remain. Many governmental agencies, institutions, and industries cling to experiments that use animal “models”
instead of the latest advances in human-relevant research methods. But Physicians Committee experts are proving the power of a shift to nonanimal technologies to help us understand human conditions ranging from alcohol abuse and chemical exposures to Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. The Physicians Committee and its supporters are also urging companies like CARE Research to use modern testing methods instead of animals.
Although meat consumption has dropped substantially over the past decade, many people have not yet learned about the power of plant-based nutrition, and the meat, dairy, and egg industries continue to heavily promote their products.
The Next 30 Years
Looking toward the next 30 years, the Physicians Committee is setting its sights and resources on initiatives that will continue to promote innovative, ethical research and improve human health. The following campaigns are a snapshot of the Physicians
Committee’s past, present, and future—and the long-term dedication it takes, with the help of members and supporters, to continue to achieve success.
Ending Animal Use in Medical Education
Past: In 1995, the Physicians Committee persuaded Harvard Medical School to eliminate its physiology dog laboratory course in favor of a human operating room training module, after having achieved similar success at other medical schools. But the majority of medical school curricula in the United States still included live animal laboratories.
Present: Thanks to the Physicians Committee’s persistence—working with medical school instructors and students, demonstrating the value of alternatives, and shining a spotlight on schools that were slow to change—just four of the 187 U.S. and Canadian medical schools use animals for medical education.
Future: The Physicians Committee is ramping up campaigns to end animal use at the final four medical schools: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga, Rush Medical College, and the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.
Take Action: PhysiciansCommittee.org/Action. Improving Human Health with Plant-Based Diets Past: In 1993, the Physicians Committee released the first Vegetarian Starter Kit, a publication later adapted by many organizations, with millions of copies collectively distributed. In 2006, The American Diabetes Association published the first results of the Physicians Committee’s federally funded diabetes study in its journal, Diabetes Care. The study found that a low-fat vegan diet treats type 2 diabetes more effectively than conventional diabetes diet guidelines and may be more effective than oral diabetes drugs.
Present: Nearly half a million people across the globe have participated in one of the Physicians Committee’s
online 21-Day Vegan Kickstart programs, which includes programs in English, Mandarin, and Spanish, as well as an English-language program geared toward people of Indian descent.
Future: This autumn, Physicians Committee doctors and dietitians will open the Barnard Medical Center, which will offer complete primary care, with extra emphasis on nutrition as highly effective way to help people regain their health.
Take Action: PhysiciansCommittee.org/Health Humanizing Military Medical Training
Past: In 1992, Physicians Committee doctors testified before Congress on military animal use and worked with the General Accounting Office in its investigation of an experiment that involved shooting restrained cats in the head to “model” human injuries. As a result, the cat-shooting experiments were halted.
Present: Effective Jan. 1, 2015, the U.S. military removed the use of animals from six different areas of medical training, including Advanced Trauma Life Support courses and pediatrics residency programs, two training areas that the Physicians Committee long
addressed with the Department of Defense.
Future: The Physicians Committee is supporting the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act—a bill that will phase out animal use in military medical training, replacing it with human-based training methods, such as simulators. This will ensure that troops receive the most effective lifesaving training.
Take Action: BESTPracticesAct.org.
Enriching Physician Education
Past: In 2007, the Physicians Committee, in partnership with The George Washington University, launched NutritionCME.org, an online continuing medical educationbprogram for health care professionals.
The same year, to remedy the lack of nutrition training in medical curricula, the Physicians Committee published the 900-page Nutrition Guide for Clinicians and distributed it to second-year medical students free of charge.
Present: More than 5,000 health care professionals have earned continuing education credits at live Physicians Committee education events and on NutritionCME.org—which now has more than 50 CME credits available, including recently added programs on the role of nutrition in HIV/AIDS—and at live Physicians Committee education events.
Future: This summer, the Physicians Committee will host hundreds of health care professionals and researchers from around the world at the third International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine. This year’s focus is cardiovascular disease. The Physicians
Committee is also promoting the Education and Training (EAT) for Health Act and the Expanding Nutrition’s Role in Curriculums and Healthcare (ENRICH) Act, two bills that will boost nutrition education for current and future physicians, respectively.
Reforming Chemical Testing
Past: After hearing from the Physicians Committee and other stakeholders in 1999, Vice President Al Gore and the Environmental Protection Agency made concessions in the High Production Volume chemical test program, agreeing not to perform animal tests if
nonanimal methods are available. Physicians Committee toxicologists subsequently saved thousands of animals from HPV program tests.
Present: The Physicians Committee and the National Institutes of Health are leading an international effort of more than 500
scientists and policymakers to promote a new approach, called Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs), that will reduce animal
testing and make chemicals safer for humans.
Future: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program may soon adopt more nonanimal chemical tests—long recommended by the Physicians Committee—to better predict pesticides’ harmful effects in humans. These quick,
high-throughput in vitro methods will save countless animals’ lives and shave off decades of time it would take to test this many chemicals in animals.
Take Action: ReformToxicityTesting.org.