Doctors’ Group Blasts Milk Ads

We’ve all heard the question, “Got milk?” Now a Washington advocacy group wants us to consider this question: “Got diarrhea?”

The message is part of a new outdoor campaign set to break in six cities this summer for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group of doctors and laypeople who claim that milk is not as good for us as we think.

Last week, the group also placed a print ad in two Washington newspapers urging Mayor Anthony Williams not to don a chocolate-milk mustache and appear at the National Zoo May 11 to promote Drink Chocolate Milk Day, a publicity effort that is part of the “Got Milk?” campaign. A third ad in production will appear in Hollywood trade publications, encouraging celebrities not to participate in the well-known campaign, now in its eighth year.

All the work is created in-house. In the billboard ad breaking this summer, four people wearing milk mustaches are doubled over in agony after drinking milk. The line “Got diarrhea?” appears at the top. The print ad reads: “Research studies show that milk is linked to prostate cancer, an epidemic in D.C. The majority of African Americans and Hispanics are lactose intolerant. Please ask Mayor Anthony Williams to ‘just say no’ to the dairy industry.” This ad appeared in the City Paper and the Capital Spotlight, two local D.C. papers.

The group will spend about $50,000 trying to counter a $175 million advertising and public relations campaign sponsored by American milk processors and dairy farmers, and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About $90 million is spent on the advertising portion.

“All we are asking is that the Mayor not become a mouthpiece for a commercial industry by promoting a product with health risks,” said Dr. Neal Barnard, president of PCRM, as he handed out packages of soy milk and calcium-fortified orange juice at a press conference last week outside the Mayor’s office.

Despite the group’s objection, Williams said he will participate when a mobile tour promoting chocolate milk comes to Washington. The tour is sponsored by BSMG in Chicago, the public relations firm handling the “Got Milk?” campaign.

“PCRM is a lobbying group with a point of view on this particular product,” said a representative for Williams. “However, we believe that milk and milk products are part of the choices people have a right to make.”

The “Got Milk?” campaign was designed to counter America’s declining taste for milk. In 1990, Congress passed the Fluid Milk Promotion Act, which established the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, known as MilkPEP. The act requires dairy farmers and processors to pay a mandatory assessment, which is used to fund a milk-marketing campaign.

“Got Milk?” evolved from a regional ad campaign for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993. The board licensed the campaign to Dairy Management, a national dairy concern, in 1995. At the same time, Bozell in New York broke “Milk Mustache” print ads for MilkPEP. The California board then licensed the “Got milk?” tag, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, in 1998 to MilkPEP, which began using it in its advertising. In 1999, Bozell expanded its celebrity-laden print ads to include television.

Bozell requires that any artist appearing in a milk ad “not make any statements which disparage or reflect unfavorably on the Campaign or milk as a healthy and nutritious dietary supplement” for three years, according to the contract made with Baltimore Orioles baseball star Cal Ripken Jr.

PCRM calls this a gag order. “If the dairy community thinks their product is so healthy, why would they need that clause in there?” said a PCRM representative.

A Bozell representative said it is “a typical disparagement clause appearing in any contract where a celebrity is endorsing a product.”

MilkPEP dismisses PCRM as a fringe group similar to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It says PCRM’s agenda is to promote a vegetarian diet. “Their eventual desire is to get meat products off the food pyramid,” said Kurt Graetzer, CEO of MilkPEP. “The high-profile nature of the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign makes it a perfect target for them to advance their agenda.”

Meanwhile, PCRM has a petition pending with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that the Bozell campaign misleads the public “by suggesting that consumption of cow’s milk can prevent osteoporosis, lower blood pressure or enhance athletic performance.” The group has asked the FTC to investigate some of the health claims in the ads.

In one ad featuring model Tyra Banks in a bikini, the copy reads: “One in five victims of osteoporosis is male. … Calcium can help prevent it. An ice cold, lowfat milk is a great source of calcium.”

The FTC has referred the petition to the Department of Agriculture for review. “We are dealing with a unique situation because it is a government-sponsored advertising contract,” said Eric London, an FTC representative.

PCRM said it is a conflict of interest to have the same government agency that administers the program review the scientific claims made in the advertising.

MilkPEP’s Graetzer countered that the Department of Agriculture is the agency best suited to review the issues raised in the petition.