Respectful Insolence

PETA: Even more impossible to parody than ever!

Yesterday’s post was a result of the feeling that I had been getting too snarky for too long a time without doing some serious science or medical blogging. Not that there’s anything wrong with being snarky, but a continuous diet of snark eventually gets dull–and not just to readers. However, science blogging is hard. Posts like that take a lot of work (which is why I have a propensity to write such posts over the weekend and post them on Monday). After I do a serious, thoughtful post like that, sometimes I just need a diversion. Sometimes I need to examine something that allows me to deliver a bit of the ol’ not-so-Respectful Insolence to a highly deserving target. It’s very cathartic, not to mention entertaining.

Thank heaven for PETA. The merry band of animal rights nutcases in that organization never fail to disappoint. Last week, it was their writing an open letter to Ben & Jerry suggesting that they replace the cow’s milk with breast milk in the making of their famous ice creams. Truly, you can’t make stuff like this up. I wondered what PETA might do to top that. Unfortunately, I didn’t have long to wait. Witness the latest PETA ad campaign in the form of a billboard in Newark, NJ:

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And here, predictably enough, is the accompanying press release:

Recent Studies Find Link Between Cow’s Milk and the Debilitating Disease

For Immediate Release:
September 29, 2008

Contact:
Lindsay Rajt 757-622-7382

Newark, N.J. – In light of two scientific studies that link milk consumption to autism in children and a third that establishes that the Newark metropolitan area has the highest rate of autism among 14 regions studied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PETA has just unveiled in the city a brand-new billboard parodying a ubiquitous milk ad. The billboard–which shows a bowl of milk and cereal next to the tagline “Got Autism? Studies Have Shown a Link Between Cow’s Milk and Autism”–is located one block from the Prudential Center, near the main entrance.

The bad news is that data from a study by the CDC show that metropolitan Newark’s rate of 10.6 cases of autism per 1,000 8-year-old children is the highest among the 14 areas studied. The good news is that a study conducted in Norway found a major reduction in autistic behavior in children who were put on a diet free of casein–a component of cow’s milk. Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Rome found a “marked improvement” in the behavior of autistic children who were taken off dairy products. Both studies present compelling evidence that should give parents pause the next time they’re inclined to say to their kids, “Drink your milk.”

Testimonials from parents of autistic kids support the studies’ findings. One mother posted the following on the Internet: “There was nothing to lose, so I decided to eliminate all the dairy products from his diet. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Miles stopped screaming, he didn’t spend as much time repeating actions, and, for the first time in months, he let his sister hold his hands to sing ‘Ring Around a Rosy.’”

“We already know about the link between dairy products and ear infections, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and obesity, and now you can add autism to the list,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “Cow’s milk might be the perfect food for baby cows, but it might be making kids sick and could seriously damage their health when they get older.”

For more information and to view a copy of the billboard, please visit PETA’s Web site Blog.PETA.org or click here.

The stupid, it burns hypernova, leaving behind a black hole of vileness. In other words, it’s typical of the burning stupid that PETA specializes in.

First off, PETA has a rather different definition of “recent” than I do. Take a look at the University of Rome study to which the PETA blog post links. Not only is it small and not that impressive, but it’s from 1995. I hadn’t realized that thirteen years ago was “recent.” Here’s a hint: In the world of my specialty, breast cancer, the last thirteen years have produced a sea change in many aspects of how we view and treat breast cancer. I wasn’t sure what study from Norway to which PETA referred in its press release. My best guess was that it was this one by Knivsberg et al from 2002, which is hardly new either. It’s also small (only ten subjects in each group) and single-blinded. Not exactly compelling evidence.

The real reason why this PETA ad is even more disingenuous and deceptive than the usual PETA ad is that the concept that milk proteins exacerbate autistic symptoms is a hypothesis that has largely been discredited. The proposed mechanism was known as the “opioid hypothesis,” because the milk protein casein is known to break down to casomorphins, peptides that have opioid effects and release histamine, and (or so it was thought) these breakdown products of casein exacerbate the symptoms of autism. This was the hypothesis that launched a million quacks advocating milk-free or casein-free diets. It’s also the idea that launched the idea that gluten-free diets might alleviate autistic symptoms, based on the observation that casein has a similar structure to gluten. Indeed, gluten-free, casein-free diets are a major theme in so-called “biomedical treatments” for autism beloved of Jenny McCarthy, among others. Like the basis for so many other dubious “biomedical” treatments for autism, the idea that casein somehow contributes to autism is an idea that is simple and plausible-sounding.

And almost certainly wrong.

Indeed, there was a Cochane review of the scientific literature in 2004 that examined all the studies to date examining the hypothesis the casein-free diets can alleviate autistic symptoms and was updated in 2008. (Now there’s what I mean when I call a study “recent.” Eat that, PETA!) Here’s what the review concluded:

In the first version of this review we argued that exclusion diets are not without cost in terms of inconvenience and extra financial cost and limitations on foods of choice for the affected family member and that we could not recommend their use as a standard treatment on the basis of the limited data available. The only trial identified since the first review shows no significant difference between the intervention and control group and, again, we cannot recommend these exclusion diets as standard treatment.

That trial was this one, a randomized, double-blind trial of a gluten-free, casein-free diet in autism, and the authors concluded:

This study tested the efficacy of a gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet in treating autism using a randomized, double blind repeated measures crossover design. The sample included 15 children aged 2-16 years with autism spectrum disorder. Data on autistic symptoms and urinary peptide levels were collected in the subjects’ homes over the 12 weeks that they were on the diet. Group data indicated no statistically significant findings even though several parents reported improvement in their children. Although preliminary, this study demonstrates how a controlled clinical trial of the GFCF diet can be conducted, and suggests directions for future research.

Moreover, casein-free diets are not without potential risk. Indeed, just a few months ago, there was a study that suggested that such diets may well contribute to bone loss in developing bones. Funny that PETA forgot to mention that particular study, which actually was recently published recently–as in earlier this year.

That PETA would so clearly and dishonestly misrepresent the status of the scientific data regarding the use of casein-free diets to treat autism is not at all surprising, given its past willingness to twist, dissemble, and lie in the name of publicity for its cause. Worse, it’s not through yet, even here, claiming that milk “has already been strongly linked to Crohn’s disease, certain types of cancer, and other serious health problems,” referring to this post on its own propaganda site GoVeg.com. In this case, the claim is that a bacteria that can cause intestinal inflammation in cattle, M. paratuberculosis, is responsible for Crohn’s disease in humans, and the article has lovely citations to great scientific journals such as WorldNetDaily. In any case, the “evidence” for causality here is virtually all circumstantial and not particularly strong. It’s true that M. paratuberculosis has in some studies been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (although in others it wasn’t). Overall, the evidence is inconclusive at best, as described in this recent review article, and the question is under active study. It’s another case of confusing correlation with causation every bit as blatant as the sorts of canards that the antivaccine movement likes to lay down, complete with “testimonials.”

In fact, this exercise is nothing more than an exercise in confusing correlation with causation, but even dumber (if that’s possible) than antivaccinationists. The reason is that people have been drinking cow’s milk for literally millennia, ever since humans domesticated cows and other ruminants. True, it’s only been since the late 1800s that its consumption has become widespread, accelerating in the early 1900s with the advent of refrigeration, but, even so, that would not explain why autism rates didn’t take off until nearly many decades later in the 1990s. I mean, if you’re going to intentionally confuse correlation with causation, can’t you pick either a different factor whose exposure has been increasing at a time closer to the beginning of the apparent rise in autism cases. CDs or personal computers, anyone?

I know, I know. Beating up on PETA is like beating up on a helpless puppy dog, except that puppy dogs are cute and lovable, and PETA is anything but either of the two. It’s also too damned easy, leaving me feeling vaguely guilty when I’m done for not going after a more challenging target. I do it anyway because the level of sheer irrationality demonstrated by PETA with each and every one of its campaigns just irritates the hell out of me. I hate having my intelligence insulted in such a manner. Also, the sheer publicity whoring for which PETA is so well known irritates me. It’s painfully obvious that PETA doesn’t give a rodent’s posterior about helping autistic children. It just knows that autism has been in the news a lot lately and decided a good way to get publicity would be to latch onto autism somehow, no matter how tenuous the link they come up with to justify their billboard. Not that it will matter to most PETA supporters or to the “biomedical:” (translation: antivaccinationist) movement. Indeed, this latest campaign is so idiotic that I almost expect to see it touted on autism quackery websites soon.

There, now. I feel better. Slapping down PETA is always a fine diversion when my workload gets too heavy and I need a break. Hopefully, I can pick a more challenging target next time. On the other hand, so much woo is no better than this; so I’m not sure there really is a much more challenging target in that realm.

Additional commentary:

  1. PO’d at PETA
  2. Got Autism? (asks PETA)

Comments

  1. #1 Lexin
    September 30, 2008

    If I’d read that letter or seen that advert without accompanying commentary I’d have assumed irony. I’m still not convinced they’re not intended as sarcasm, except that everyone I’ve ever encountered from PETA is devoid of a sense of humour.

  2. #2 Paul
    September 30, 2008

    Don’t feel guilty Orac, somebody has to do it…and you do it very well.

    I’m used to PeTA misrepresenting animal research, but I didn’t realize the extent to which they also misrepresent clinical research.

    That’s worth knowing!

  3. #3 Calli Arcale
    September 30, 2008

    There was nothing to lose, so I decided to eliminate all the dairy products from his diet. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Miles stopped screaming, he didn’t spend as much time repeating actions, and, for the first time in months, he let his sister hold his hands to sing ‘Ring Around a Rosy.

    This is such a ridiculous small improvement to be labeled “miraculous” that I find myself wondering why it, of all the many testimonials they say exist, they chose this half-assed one. I’d suspect them of creating a parody, except that PETA appears to lack a sense of humor, and certainly would not parody themselves.

    What it all boils down to, of course, is that PETA as an organization doesn’t care a whit about autism, diabetes, obesity or any of those things. All it cares about is getting people to realize how horrible and evil they are for keeping domestic animals. Truth is secondary to that mission.

  4. #4 Lucas McCarty
    September 30, 2008

    PETA has now decided that Autistics are deserving of disparaging and fear-inducing representation in the public light.

    Let’s be glad that the original Aspergia community was broken up before we became too militant. Animal rights terrorists VS Autistic terrorists: Autistics are more persistent and more cunning, we win. Don’t be fooled by the spinning; it’s a ruse to make people underestimate us.

  5. #5 wolfwalker
    September 30, 2008

    Beating up on P”e”TA isn’t like beating a puppy. It’s more like beating a hyena. A hungry hyena. A hungry, rabid hyena. The only thing wrong with it is that it doesn’t produce a definitive end to the problem.

    In an ideal world, blatantly false and stupid ads like that would be grounds for shutting down the organization responsible and forbidding its entire leadership from ever taking any part in public life again.

  6. #6 Pedro
    September 30, 2008

    Here’s another example to the pile already existing that shows that PETA is not including humans in their “animal rights” ethics and uses any lie or distortion to convey their ideology.

    It makes me wanna puke, bearing in mind that i’m a defender of sentient-beings ethics (be it human or non-human animals).

  7. #7 Natalie
    September 30, 2008

    What it all boils down to, of course, is that PETA as an organization doesn’t care a whit about autism, diabetes, obesity or any of those things.

    PETA just doesn’t care about people, period. I’m more and more in favor the PETA-medic-alert bracelet. Bitten by a venemous snake? Sucks to be you – no antivenin, since it’s an animal-derived product. Diabetic? Better figure out how to manage it on diet alone!

  8. #8 Jason Failes
    September 30, 2008

    If PETA and other vegetarians had focused on health, they probably could have converted a large proportion of the population to a diet with a lower proportion of meat and other animal products.

    Instead, they’ve focused on the “moral issue”, in a typically Bushian with-us-or-against us way, and, since most people really don’t know what else a cow would do with its life other than provide us with food, this has had tremendously little effect on the average diet.

  9. #9 Dianne
    September 30, 2008

    Diabetic? Better figure out how to manage it on diet alone!

    Let’s not get carried away. The oral drugs aren’t animal derived. For that matter, most insulin is made from the exploitation of E coli or yeast, which, AFAIK, PETA does not oppose. On the other hand, all of the above were (I hope) tested on animals first, so there you are again.

  10. #10 Terrie
    September 30, 2008

    “Debilitating disease”? Hmmm, I don’t think that word means what they think it means.

    Debilitating: Causing a loss of strength or energy.

    Nope, definately not what they think it means.

  11. #11 Brian Hodges
    September 30, 2008

    I know that in general the altie community, as you put it, is pretty much against drinking cow’s milk no matter what. You hear often the “only breastmilk and only for infants” or something along that line. It’s not just autism they’re worried about. They seem to think a lot of our current maladies are caused by milk. Others say that raw milk is just fine but that the pasteurization of milk is what causes all sorts of nastiness… something along the lines of you essentially boil out all the stuff that is good about it. I’ve heard that you can’t absorb any of the calcium in pasteurized milk because they cook out the stuff that allows you to absorb it. Can anyone here point me at some bona fide research that would lend creedence one way or the other on this one.

  12. #12 Dianne
    September 30, 2008

    I have to say, though, that for originality and sheer silliness, I still favor the Ben and Jerry’s letter. Unscientific nonsense about autism is quite common. Calls for a conversion from cow to human milk…not so much.

  13. #13 Chemgeek
    September 30, 2008

    It’s worse than we think. I just did a recent study and found out that everyone who drinks cow milk dies… eventually. The link is indisputable.

  14. #14 Orac
    September 30, 2008

    Noooo! You’re right. But it’s worse than that. I just realized that every single person who drinks beer also dies…eventually.

    The horror!

  15. #15 jayh
    September 30, 2008

    I’d love to see battle of the woo meisters. You mean it’s milk all the time and not MMR? Jenny must be livid. What would that do to the lawsuits against the vaccine makers….

    ahhhh deliciosu

  16. #16 noncarborundum
    September 30, 2008
    Miles stopped screaming . . .

    This is such a ridiculous small improvement to be labeled “miraculous” that I find myself wondering why it, of all the many testimonials they say exist, they chose this half-assed one.

    I’m assuming you haven’t spent long stretches of time in the presence of a constantly screaming child?

    Not that I’m at all defending PETA in general here, but please don’t snipe at this point unless you’ve spent some time walking in little Miles’s parents’ shoes.

  17. #17 LL
    September 30, 2008

    ……I’m speechless…
    The stupid, it burns, just like the Burning Man.

  18. #18 J-Dog
    September 30, 2008

    PETA? I want nothing to do with those damn plant-killers.

  19. #19 HCN
    September 30, 2008

    I’ve endured a seven hour temper tantrum from one child. This was the one whose “terrible twos” lasted from age 18 months until he was 7 years old. He is not autistic, and is an apparently normal high school student (though we had loud words this morning). Most kids eventually stop screaming.

    Do not assume that only autistic children have difficult periods of development.

  20. #20 Mojo
    September 30, 2008

    …and is an apparently normal high school student (though we had loud words this morning).

    That is normal for high school students, isn’t it?

  21. #21 AtheistAcolyte
    September 30, 2008

    Beating up on PETA is like beating up on a helpless puppy dog, except that puppy dogs are cute and lovable, and PETA is anything but either of the two. It’s also too damned easy, leaving me feeling vaguely guilty when I’m done for not going after a more challenging target. I do it anyway because the level of sheer irrationality demonstrated by PETA with each and every one of its campaigns just irritates the hell out of me.

    You beat helpless puppy dogs because PETA irritates you?

    *duck* ;-)

  22. #22 Calli Arcale
    September 30, 2008
    This is such a ridiculous small improvement to be labeled “miraculous” that I find myself wondering why it, of all the many testimonials they say exist, they chose this half-assed one.

    I’m assuming you haven’t spent long stretches of time in the presence of a constantly screaming child?

    I have. My daughter is on the autism spectrum, in fact. She also suffered from colic as an infant. (And contrary to what is claimed about animal products, this had nothing to do with her diet; she had only breastmilk at that point.) It is torturous to endure a screaming child when there is nothing you can do to settle them.

    But what is described in that anecdote really is a very modest improvement. She says he had “less” repetitve behaviors and let his sister hold his hand to sing “Ring Around the Rosy”. To justify a term like “miraculous”, I’d expect the child to go from almost completely antisocial to no autistic symptoms whatsoever — not just a mild improvement in the symptoms which would be expected merely from normal development. (Autistic children do grow and develop, even the very serious cases.)

    Anyway, I’m not objecting to the mother being desperately glad when her child stops screaming. I’m pointing out the weakness of PETA’s position when their only support is this very mild anecdote, described in an obviously hyperbolic fashion.

  23. #23 jypsy
    September 30, 2008

    Dear Janet,

    Thank you for contacting PETA about our billboard highlighting the link between dairy consumption and the severity of autism symptoms.

    Our billboard is designed to raise awareness about scientific evidence indicating that milk can worsen behavior associated with autism. Researchers found that when dairy products were removed from autistic children’s diets, their behavior improved significantly. Parents who want to protect their children should steer clear of the dairy aisle and choose healthy alternatives, like soy or rice milks. For more information about the link between dairy and autism, please see http://www.PETA.org/feat_autism.asp and http://blog.PETA.org/archives/2008/09/got_autism.php.

    The link to autism is just one of many reasons to ditch dairy. Research has linked dairy consumption to higher rates of ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and diabetes. Dairy products have also been linked to juvenile diabetes, allergies, constipation, and obesity.

    Cruelty is inherent in the dairy industry, which exploits animals by cramming them onto filthy factory farms for their entire lives. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk during and after pregnancy, so to be able to constantly milk them, farmers forcefully impregnate cows every nine months. The cows are impregnated year after year, but they are never allowed to nurture their calves. After several years of living in filthy conditions and being forced to produce 10 times more milk than they would naturally, their exhausted bodies are turned into hamburgers or ground up for soup.

    Additionally, the veal industry could not survive without the dairy industry. Because male calves can’t produce milk, dairy farmers take them from their mothers immediately after birth and sell them to veal farms. There, they endure 14 to 17 weeks of torment­most calves are chained inside crates so small that they can’t even turn around. To learn more about the lives of cows and calves used for dairy products and veal, please visit http://www.GoVeg.com/factoryFarming_Cows_Dairy.asp.

    Thanks again for writing and for your interest in this important issue.

    Sincerely,

    The PETA Staff
    http://www.PETA.org

  24. #24 Carlie
    September 30, 2008

    Huh. My autistic spectrum son doesn’t drink milk. Never has. He spat it out the first time he tasted it and has never let it past his lips since. Wonder what PETA would make of that?

  25. #25 Joseph
    September 30, 2008

    I wonder what PETA thinks of the fact that many autistic children (and children with ADHD too) are treated with cod liver oil. I say they definitely should have a word with the autism biomed community.

  26. #26 Dianne
    September 30, 2008

    I wonder if these testimonials might come from parents whose children are autistic and also happen to be lactose intolerant. Maybe the kid in the example screams less because his stomach is no longer cramping and the cyclic diarrhea/constipation has stopped. Both autism spectrum disorders and lactose intolerance are relatively common so they could easily both occur in enough kids to make for some nice, sincere testimonials from parents of kids with both without there being any correlation at all between milk and autism.

  27. #27 Joe
    September 30, 2008

    Some comments, I remember Dianne, remarked on the major advances in human health from animal research. Somebody, Penn and Teller (Michael Moore?), has disclosed that a senior officer in PETA has type-1 diabetes and is alive today because of animal research. Asked about it, she thought that particular research was justified.

    They also were caught taking animals to a “no-kill” shelter when, in fact, they killed the animals before they got to the shelter.

    I recall a book- Animal Farm by George Orwell and the rule “All animals are equal; but, some are more equal than others.”

    That rule was penned by the pigs. Maybe Orwell was more prescient than I realized.

  28. #28 Dr. Kate
    September 30, 2008

    I have another procedural question, and again I apologize if it’s ignorant: How does one do a double-blind dietary study? (The paper cited indicates that it was a double blind study of GFCF diets.) I would think it would be pretty obvious whether you’re drinking milk or not. I can see how you could keep the researcher/data collector from knowing…but how do you blind the “patient”? Having drunk all manner of non-dairy milks (and eaten gluten-free products), I can say that they are completely and easily distinguishable from the “real thing.”

    I’m not doubting the study’s findings–I find it hard to believe that drinking milk has anything to do with autism–but I am curious how they did it. I followed the link, but I don’t have access to the full article.

    One thing I also find very odious about this particular ad is that it implies that drinking milk causes autism, but the press release actually makes a much weaker claim. And, of course, most people won’t read the press release, let alone do the research to find out the real deal. They’ll just stop giving their perfectly healthy children milk because they’re afraid it will give them autism.

  29. #29 sophia8
    September 30, 2008

    Yes, it’s PETA’s VP, MaryBeth Sweetland who has diabetes. She justifies her use of animal-derived insulin with the argument that she needs to stay alive to fight for the rights of animals.
    I need a new irony meter…..

  30. #30 Natalie
    September 30, 2008

    Somebody, Penn and Teller (Michael Moore?), has disclosed that a senior officer in PETA has type-1 diabetes and is alive today because of animal research.

    As sophia mentioned, it’s not just animal research she’s benefiting from, but insulin that contains actual animal products. (BTW, Dianne, this is what I was referencing with my diabetic comment, although I see your point regardless.)

  31. #31 KevinS
    September 30, 2008

    Brian,

    As far as not absorbing calcium in pasteurized milk, you probably don’t need to look further than the Orac’s link to that bone loss study. If a casein-free diet increases the risk of bone loss over a normal diet, well… Granted that’s for autistic boys, but I imagine someone will wander along with loads of research in a bit here.

    To everyone else with access to articles,

    Did that study mention anything about the autistic subjects also suffering from celiac disease or lactose intolerance? Cause if my fiancee is any measure, then a celiac being force-fed gluten is going to be terribly grumpy, autistic or no. If the subjects (or that one lady’s child) calmed down after moving to a GFCF diet, I’d be testing them for food intolerances before jumping to wilder conclusions.

  32. #32 Calli Arcale
    September 30, 2008

    That’s a good point — perhaps by chance, enough autistic children have either lactose intolerance or celiac sprue or an allergy to casein or another of the many conditions that can cause problems digesting milk and grains.

    I have a cousin who has severe celiac sprue — even a tiny bit of gluten will cause her intestines to shut down. It was discovered when she was six months old and trying solids for the first time. Interestingly, she is one of the few people in my family *without* a learning disorder of some kind. I suppose those who push the GFCF diet as a cure for autism might see that as proof of something or other.

  33. #33 Noadi
    September 30, 2008

    Lactose intolerance is far more common than a lot of people realize. Especially among kids most parents just assume their kid can digest milk, mine did. I didn’t find out until I was an adult that the stomach problems I was having was due to lactose intolerance. If you have a lactose intolerant kid who’s autistic, or even one who isn’t, and feed him milk the result is going to be unpleasant. I’m an adult and feed me milk and I’m going to be very very grumpy and unpleasant (I’m so glad I can digest cheese, I’d be grumpier if I couldn’t eat cheese).

  34. #34 Julie Stahlhut
    September 30, 2008

    I’m an adult and feed me milk and I’m going to be very very grumpy and unpleasant…

    I’ve felt like screaming after consuming milk myself. At least unless I remember to take some lactase enzyme, and even that fails to work about a quarter of the time. Much smaller traces of dairy products in food are sufficient to bring out my husband’s inner curmudgeon, since his ensuing allergy symptoms (related to dairy protein) include a blotchy itch and a nagging cough. It took quite a bit of time for us to figure out both of these problems, and we’re scientifically and medically literate adults without autism spectrum disorders. I’m sure that diagnosing a subtle food sensitivity in an autistic child would be a challenge for anyone, but the whole story is a great example illustrating the limitations of anecdotal reports. (Under highly specific circumstances, two or three Lactaid prevent me from getting grouchy. So — hey, why not try using lactase enzyme tablets to treat Uncle Max’s bipolar disorder?)

    Someone pointed out on another blog that using human milk on any scale in processed food would require treating human females into, essentially, dairy cows. This isn’t exactly a humanitarian improvement either.

  35. #35 Calli Arcale
    September 30, 2008

    Someone pointed out on another blog that using human milk on any scale in processed food would require treating human females into, essentially, dairy cows. This isn’t exactly a humanitarian improvement either.

    Of course, PETA never intended it to be a useful suggestion. They just wanted to shame us into realizing that we aren’t treating animals with sufficient respect (which, by PETA standards, is impossible anyway).

  36. #36 Orac
    September 30, 2008

    Our billboard is designed to raise awareness about scientific evidence indicating that milk can worsen behavior associated with autism. Researchers found that when dairy products were removed from autistic children’s diets, their behavior improved significantly. Parents who want to protect their children should steer clear of the dairy aisle and choose healthy alternatives, like soy or rice milks. For more information about the link between dairy and autism, please see http://www.PETA.org/feat_autism.asp and http://blog.PETA.org/archives/2008/09/got_autism.php.

    PETA is even dumber and more dishonest than I thought, and that’s saying a lot.

  37. #37 Danio
    September 30, 2008

    AAAAAH! Right after reading this post I mentioned PETA’s billboard in a ‘get a load of this tripe’ facetious kind of way to a coworker and she believed it. Easily. And immediately segued into telling me about this great interview she saw with Jenny McCarthy all about her new book, and isn’t it just a shame that we’re dumping all these chemicals into our poor ‘babies’. I was just gobsmacked. I tried to rephrase “Jenny McCarthy is a dangerous fucking loon” with as much patience and tact as I could muster. She was surprised to hear my dissent, and pulled out Sastra’s favorite old chestnut about maternal instinct trumping soulless corporate-run medicine, with a side of ‘big medicine is just steam-rolling us into compliance with these inhumane vaccine schedules’ and then voiced a strong desire to inject some ‘common sense’ into the process. The worst part is, I was so sidetracked by the McCarthy bomb that she walked away from conversation still believing that milk causes autism. *headdesk*

    This is a nice lady who, despite her tendency toward woo, is capable of understanding and appreciating evidence-based science, if it’s presented accessibly. I really want to give her some follow up reading material, but all of the sources I personally find so informative are going to be way over her head. Given that she already harbors a bit of mistrust about ‘big medicine’ (she didn’t call it that, but I can tell she thinks of it that way, and I know her family sees a Naturopath in addition to their various MDs), does anyone have any recommendations for resources (web or print) that might reach her? Help me, RI readership, you’re my only hope!

  38. #38 natural cynic
    September 30, 2008

    One thing that Orac left out is the changes in milk consumption over the last century. USDA figures here.

    About 100 years ago – 34 gallons/person/year.
    During WWII [when milk wasn't rationed] – 45 gallons/person/year[almost all whole milk].
    2000 – 23 gallons/person/year [including 15 gallons reduced or non-fat]. Add another ~10 gallons per year for cheese and ice cream.

    And there is a big increase in soft drink consumption and bottled water. PETA can’t be bothered with those, but maybe the alties will start screaming against those.

    Or, maybe they will go after Bovine Growth Hormone instead.

  39. #39 Interrobang
    September 30, 2008

    Julie — I get your husband’s symptoms and the GI ones besides. I’ve been on a dairy-free diet for fifteen years (with my doctor’s guidance and approval), and I’m doing much better than I used to be. Dose me with dairy, though, and I am one unhappy camper for three or four days until the symptoms pass off and my tempermental GI tract settles down again.

    A lot of people just don’t realise how many non-lactase-persistent people there are out there, and how many people lose it as they get older. One is particularly likely to be NLP if one is from (or descended from people from) Asia, Eastern and Central Europe, and parts of Africa.

  40. #40 autismmamma
    September 30, 2008

    Milk, nor casein, causes autism, and Jenny McCarthy was not the first person who uses a gluten-free casein-free diet as treatment. Do your research. No autistic community has called the diet a cure or even claimed that it helps all children with autism. But when your autistic child is not obviously autistic by the untrained eye, in “normal” classes with the rest of their grade, can play, talk, interact like other children, all due to a change in a diet that has radically improved the lives of millions of people, you won’t think this is a “quack” and all a joke. Gluten-free Casein-free diets are a hard lifestyle transisition and require dedication, especially with autistic children. I’m sure nobody takes it on for fun, but as a treatement that DOES work for some children, it is a godsend.

    I don’t think PETA should try to capitalize on this, but their claims gives you no right to argue this development in social awareness.

  41. #41 jj
    September 30, 2008

    @Joseph
    “I wonder what PETA thinks of the fact that many autistic children (and children with ADHD too) are treated with cod liver oil. I say they definitely should have a word with the autism biomed community.”

    Very true. My company manufactures natural Omega (3,6,9) supplements, made mostly from cod and other fish oils. We make “Gummy Omega” vitamins for children and are geared for helping with autism. I’m no researcher (just an IT guy, actually) but the customer testimonials I’ve read from parents with autistic children seem more convincing than the anti-dairiers…

  42. #42 Dr. T
    September 30, 2008

    The stupid, it burns hypernova, leaving behind a black hole of vileness. In other words, it’s typical of the burning stupid that PETA specializes in.

    I agree with that statement, but I also wish to comment on the burning stupidity of the CDC. First, the CDC lumped together autism, Asperger disorder, and “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified.” This, to me, is unbelievable. But, it gets worse: many of the diagnoses were made based on school assessments only! That’s right: no medical evaluation. And which region of the 14 had the second highest percentage of school-assessed ‘autism’? Newark, with 65% of diagnoses. (Arizona was number one with over 80% of ‘diagnoses’ made by school assessment.)

    This study is thoroughly disgusting. It achieves no scientific purpose. It combines medical conditions that should not be combined. It equates school assessments to medical evaluations. And, it wastes taxpayer dollars on misleading claptrap. The CDC continues on the downhill course that began in the early 1990s with the increasing politicization of that organization. It is so bad that I trust nothing from the CDC unless I can corroborate the information using other sources.

  43. #43 Joseph
    September 30, 2008

    My company manufactures natural Omega (3,6,9) supplements, made mostly from cod and other fish oils. We make “Gummy Omega” vitamins for children and are geared for helping with autism. I’m no researcher (just an IT guy, actually) but the customer testimonials I’ve read from parents with autistic children seem more convincing than the anti-dairiers…

    There’s actually a double-blind study that suggests Omega 3 might help with hyperactivity in autism. This doesn’t seem as implausible as a lot of stuff you see in the autism biomed world. It’s also not as unsafe as a lot of stuff. Perhaps one day it will go from alternative to evidence-based. So far there’s just one such study, though. The history of autism treatments is replete with hypotheses that didn’t pan out upon more careful scrutiny.

  44. #44 Joseph
    September 30, 2008

    First, the CDC lumped together autism, Asperger disorder, and “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified.” This, to me, is unbelievable.

    I can’t speak to the CDC’s rationale, but that to me is not unbelievable. Researchers actually don’t know very well how to differentiate autism, Asperger’s and PPD-NOS. See, for example, Mayes et al. (2001) “Does DSM-IV Asperger’s Disorder Exist?” This is one of serveral studies making the point that DSM-IV criteria is flawed, such that all or almost all children diagnosed with Asperger’s should have a diagnosis of autistic disorder instead (regardless of speech delay).

  45. #45 Azkyroth
    September 30, 2008

    Someone pointed out on another blog that using human milk on any scale in processed food would require treating human females into, essentially, dairy cows. This isn’t exactly a humanitarian improvement either.

    Does PETA have any history at all of displaying concern for the rights and needs of humans?

    Hell, “humanitarian” diets in the sense analogous to “vegetarian” would probably be a suggestion they’d consider favorably.

  46. #46 mc
    September 30, 2008

    I just wanted to say that I’m a vegetarian and even I think Peta is vile and stupid.

  47. #47 PeterH
    September 30, 2008

    This may actually be the best thing PETA could do. Finally, they have attempted to piss off someone who has money, time and legal power, the dairy council!!!

  48. #48 Alan Kellogg
    September 30, 2008

    Orac,

    Were you aware that more people will die in the next 100 years than have died in all the years previous? What are we going to do about this calamity? What sort of world are we leaving for our descendants? Will there be four or five species of chimpanzee studied by scientists? (May not be on topic, but at least it’s a question it’s sensible to pursue.)

  49. #49 Joseph C.
    September 30, 2008

    “a change in a diet that has radically improved the lives of millions of people

    “Gluten-free Casein-free diets are a hard lifestyle transisition and require dedication

    That second statement doesn’t support the first.

  50. #50 Calli Arcale
    September 30, 2008

    autismmamma, if there are millions of people improving on the GFCF diet, why are there no case reports? Further, if there are millions benefiting from it, why is there no reduction in demand for autism-related services in the school districts? Lastly, if there are so many miraculous stories, why is it that every testimonial I’ve read has been as equivocal as the one PETA quoted? You’d think a few genuinely impressive ones would come out.

    This may actually be the best thing PETA could do. Finally, they have attempted to piss off someone who has money, time and legal power, the dairy council!!!

    It’s not the first time. About ten years ago, they had a campaign to try to get college campuses to promote beer instead of milk. I used it as material for an MST3K fanfic: PETA and the X-Men (because of its length, I paired it with a religious fundamentalist’s review of X-Men)

  51. #51 Paper Hand
    October 1, 2008

    Autismmamma:

    If someone is allergic to glutein and/or milk, then, yes, a GFCF diet will be good for them. This is true whether or not they’re autistic, but for autistics the difference can be more obvious.

    Also, a big issue is REPLACEMENT. What’re you replacing the wheat and milk with? I’ve noticed, as an Aspie myself, that when I eat more fruits and vegetables, I can focus much better. Makes a lot of sense, lots of good vitamins in those. In fact, I first noticed this when trying out a GFCF diet. I saw considerable improvement in my focus and sensory processing. However, testing it out, I found that it wasn’t the taking out of bread and milk that gave me this benefit. It was the fact that I was paying more attention to what I was eating, and I was cutting out a lot of junk food and replacing it with more fruits and veggies. It doesn’t matter how much dairy or wheat I eat, that has no effect. But if I don’t get enough fruits and veggies, then I have problems.

    So, I would ask you this: does your child get more fruits and veggies after switching to a GFCF diet than before? How about protein? In general, are they getting a broader diet?

  52. #52 IBY
    October 1, 2008

    Orac, don’t think of them as a puppy, think of them like a cerberus out to get everyone. And I can’t believe they just outdid the anivax stupidity.

  53. #53 Ms. Clark
    October 1, 2008

    @ Dr. Kate,

    I don’t think anyone answered her question about how to do a double blind casein or gluten free study. I can only tell you how they did it at U of Rochester… that study has been completed, as I understand it… but the results are not out yet.

    They had a bunch of kids who were in school (kindergarten or preschool) presumably 5 days a week. They had a whole bunch of parents who were wiling to feed their kids the gluten free/casein free (GFCF) diet all the time. Then they had these little snack crackers or snack candies made up in packages that were not labeled to give away their ingredients. The kids were given either a gluten/casein free snack at school or a gluten/casein containing snack.

    And they took some kinds of behavioral data, presumably some kind of professionally and “blindedly”-administered, validated instrument… maybe they took blood/stool/urine samples… but I think it was just behavioral, maybe educational data.

  54. #54 Regan
    October 1, 2008

    Diet and Behavior in Young Children with Autism
    University of Rochester Medical Center
    Principal Investigator: Susan Hyman, MD

    Elsewhere I read that the data being collected is on sleep and bowel movements, non autism-specific behavior, such as hyperactivity and inattention, and autism-specific behavior (although this was unspecified in the article).

    More description on the study about halfway down this page.

  55. #55 Joseph O'Sullivan
    October 1, 2008

    There was a story on this on the local ABC 5:00 news. They showed the signed and dicussed how different people are saying different things are causing autism and asked people on the street what they thought.

    It ended the story with quote from a autism awareness group saying that PETA was disingenuously and harmfully pushing vegan diets.
    http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=6422695

  56. #56 Joseph
    October 1, 2008

    Further, if there are millions benefiting from it, why is there no reduction in demand for autism-related services in the school districts?

    I’ve pointed that out before. The moment an actually effective treatment is found, we should see some effect in special education numbers. Instead we see caseload growth up to a certain age, then stability.

    The biomeddlers used to claim that in a few years we’d be inundated with recovered autistic children. It never happened.

    autismmamma’s claims are no different to Victoria Beck’s. There’s no reason to take her seriously. And there’s no reason to presume the GFCF diet is better than placebo.

  57. #57 N.C.
    October 1, 2008

    Apropos of nothing, that billboard reminds me of the one PETA put up in NYC back in 2000 that insinuated that Mayor Giuliani had prostate cancer because he drank milk.

    New Jersey is a state with a higher-than-average incidence of autism, so I guess they’re just trying to latch themselves onto controversy as usual.

  58. #58 Jonathan Swift
    October 1, 2008

    @Azkyroth

    Perhaps PETA would like to read my Modest Proposal.

    Jonathan Swift

  59. #59 Billy
    October 2, 2008

    I am a vegan. I do not agree with everything PETA does. In many circumstances they are counterproductive. However, they do not and should not represent all animal rights activists.

    Let’s forget about PETA. Let’s pay attention to the animals and the facts. A plant-based, vegan diet is extremely healthy and eating animals is unnecessary for sustenance.

    Anyone interested in learning more about a vegan diet can go to http://www.whyvegan.com

    Thanks,
    Billy

  60. #60 Laser Potato
    October 6, 2008

    Someone posing as a PETA critic pimping a PETA site=EPIC FAIL.

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