HSUS Doc Exposed as Schlock

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you may recall that we’ve discussed oddball Michael Greger. He’s a doctor who works for the Humane Society of the United States, and his job has been to spew vegan propaganda while attaching an “M.D.” to it. He has released a series of video lectures called “Latest in Clinical Nutrition” that serve as a sounding board for Greger to cherry pick studies and shill for veganism. HSUS allows its logo to be on the DVDs, so it wouldn’t surprise us if the organization paid for the production entirely.

Greger’s moved from low-budget DVDs to starting a flashy website called “Nutrition Facts.” Despite the seemingly nonpartisan branding, “Nutrition Facts” until last year was called the “Vegan Research Institute,” so that should tell you what you need to know about the agenda of the site. Whatever Greger calls his project, debunking him simply requires going through the minutiae of the studies he cites. It’s a laborious task, but thankfully someone has done it for us.

Over at Science Based Medicine, a website run by doctors with an eye towards promoting high standards in medicine and research, editor and former Air Force colonel Dr. Harriet Hall takes a hard look at a Greger video recommended to her by a vegan activist. You can read her full analysis, but she finds a number of examples of Greger ludicrously citing research. For example, one study Greger cites as showing that "plant-based" diets protect against kidney failure actually indicates that low-fat dairy products are also protective. The devil is in the details, but Greger is in the business of making overly broad statements that fit his narrative.

Hall summarizes Greger’s formula rather well:

These videos tend to fall into an easily recognizable pattern. They feature a charismatic scientist with an agenda who makes sweeping statements that go beyond the evidence, makes unwarranted assumptions about the meaning of studies, and omits any reference to contradictory evidence.

And she also calls out Greger’s laughable rhetoric:

[Greger] compares raw meat to hand grenades, because of bacterial contamination. If you don’t handle them safely, it’s like pulling the pin. Are we selling hand grenades in grocery stores? This is a ridiculous comparison, and it ignores the fact that plant-based foods can be a source of contamination too.

Interesting point. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that leafy green vegetables are the number one source of food poisoning. About half of food poisonings are attributable to produce. Somehow, we can’t find this news on the “Nutrition Facts” blog. We’re shocked.

Greger's by no means the only wolf in sheep's clothing we've seen, by the way. Just check out the so-called "Physicians Commitee" for "Responsible Medicine" for more.

When Greger’s propaganda is filtered through calm, reasoned medical experts who are focused on impartially evaluating evidence, it falls apart. He’s a snake oil salesman for an ideology, and it seems he’ll twist research to push his agenda. In that way, he’s a perfect fit for HSUS.

Posted on 02/15/2013 at 3:45 am by humanewatch.

Topics: DairyMeat

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  • Maria

    Imagine trying to convey a message about the merits of plant-based nutrition to a largely ignorant public that is habitually/culturally, emotionally, physically, and chemically attached to a certain diet. Greger’s presentation of his material is entertaining, narrow, and sometimes shallow–but the broad scope of the site and his research speaks for itself. That being said, what is wrong with the Humane Society endorsing a health professional who promotes a diet beneficial to animals? Did I miss something here? Why slander the guy?

    • Adam Hall

      Amen.

    • Marcus Riedner

      It is because he is presenting incorrect and incomplete data as fact, and glossing over and politicizing the information at hand. Basically he’s saying personal dogma as scientific fact. Plant based nutrition also has a number of drawbacks, and there are a number of studies that show a full plant based diet to be quite unhealthy. The devil, as always, is in the details and the situation is more complex than we usually realize. What is really interesting is that I’ve seen the studies he’s sited used to say the exact opposite of what he says. How can that happen? Because the studies he often sites are broad statistical surveys and not gold standard clinical studies, and depending on how you manipulate the research data you can come to very radically different conclusions. He sites the Nurses study a lot, and that study is not a control group causal study, just a broad statistical survey. That is why it is so critical to go back to the source and dig through things when ever some charismatic person makes a claim.

      • thescrybbler

        Can you please give us a few examples of situations where he’s cited studies that actually say the opposite of what he claims? There’s a lot of hearsay flying around and I’d like to figure out how reliable Greger really is.

      • Justin

        I know this is old, but you can post some sources showing plant-based diets are unhealthy? I happen to agree with you, but am always looking for more information on this.

        • remaind
        • Marcus Riedner

          Sorry, Discus doesn’t always notify me of comments. The easiest thing to do is to search Google Scholar and read the studies. The reason I say the devil is in the details is because a “vegan diet” is not a unified diet, there are hundreds of variations. You can, for example, eat a vegan diet of Oreo Cookies and soy milk. That is going to be about as healthy as eating glass.

          So you have to look at a broad spectrum if vegan diet types and avoid generalisations. I think what is telling is the rate of vegan failure, 70-80% make it less than a year due to health issues (lack of energy, mood issues, menstral issues, fertility issues).

          A good place to start is to read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes and start reading the studies he refers too (100’s)

    • pixel fairy

      Its not weather or not theres anything wrong with a plant based diet. its that hes equating it with health using lies. its a matter of integrity.

      people might believe this and and up hurt or sick as a result (see junk food vegan), and thus, he needs to be called out.

      What he can do is stop pretending veganism will automatically make you healthier. and, instead, promote veganism for whatever other reason he (or his backers) has.

      • Lilly

        Say that someone is a liar – you’d better have some pretty convincing evidence of that. So what is it? Are you just repeating something you heard from someone else? Or are you just saying it, with complete disregard for whether what you are saying is true or not. There is a term for that. Let me think …

        • Paleo Huntress

          Greger is a liar. You know why we can say that? Because he hasn’t proved that he’s telling the truth. We don’t have to prove him wrong, he needs to prove HIMSELF right.

          • Guest

            Just an FYI folks, Paleo Huntress is a well-known troll, who does NOT represent Paleo lifestyles. She is known to be a condescending, disingenuous bully looking for a fight and as long as she gets the last word, she thinks she has. Do a search on her and you;’ll see she treats everyone horrible, and she creates IDs to ask herself questions so she can then answer and then … I guess look smart? It has not worked out well for her, she was caught more than once. She probably particularly despises this doc because it was his site she was outed on. She just makes Paleo look bad.
            http://nutritionfacts.org/video/changing-our-taste-buds/

      • No way is Greger, et al, promoting a vegJUNKtarian diet any more than your local GP recommends eating at omnivorous fast food joints.

    • NeuronMD

      “but the broad scope of the site and his research speaks for itself.”
      Scope matters much less than integrity.
      I have to question Dr. Greger’s integrity in more ways than one. For instance, he claimed publicly that the Nurses’ Health Study showed that the cholesterol gained by eating an egg/day was equivalent in smoking 5 cigarettes/day and shortens women life.

      This was total and utter hogwash. Even more laughable was that the comparative hazard ratios for both parameters were in full view and contradicted what he was saying.

      • And who was Greger quoting when he said that? A huge proportion of Greger’s text are merely direct quotes from the studies he cites. Go do some homework and check the source.

        • Paleo Huntress

          If you quote someone else and lend your support to the statement, you may as well make the statement yourself as you’re expressing that you agree.

          YOU do the homework.

      • Jeroen

        The cited study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3105270/
        says smoking a 46 pack-year multiplies your death risk by 2.08, and cholesterol by 1.17 for 105 mg/1,000kcal (= 210mg/day with 2,000kcal/day).
        One medium egg has 186mg cholestorol. Thus, one egg per day multiplies your death risk by 1.15 (1.17 to the power of 186:210).
        This is 0.19 of the risk of 46 pack years (log 1.15 divided by log 2.08).
        That’s 8,74 pack-year, or 11,6 cigarettes per day for 15 years.

        So Dr. Greger’s comparison of 5 cigarettes per day over 15 years is still a very conservative interpretation of the numbers. Perhaps he assumed a total caloric intake of more than 4,000kcal/day, which would dilute the harmful effect of one egg, according to the assumptions of this study.

        • Glenn

          Dietary cholesterol does not cause an increase in plasma levels of it. This was even accepted by Dr Ancel Keys back in the 60’s. High cholesterol is the result of inflammation in the body, not a relic of a diet containing cholesterol. If you don’t believe this then consider the amount of cholesterol the French consume in their diet and yet they were recently sat at position no 8 in the world with regards to the healthiest diet. Iceland came in at number 1 (also with a diet including both animal products and dairy). It is fair to state that Ethiopia scored quite high with a near vegan diet too but so did the Massai people who barely eat a single vegetable! For a greater understanding of cholesterol search out ‘Dr Peter Attia’ and ‘cholesterol’ on youtube where you will find a full presentation on the topic. He also has a video ‘readdressing dietary guidelines’ which looks at the role of fats in the diet and includes a number of very large studies on the subject. The findings are quite eye opening. Greger has an agenda not unlike that of Dr Campbell (the one who failed to mention wheat in the China study despite it having the greatest correlation to disease of ALL the foods observed in the study). Blaming cholesterol for disease is akin to blaming firefighters for fires. They are often found at the scene of a fire but not the cause. To add further fuel to the fire it is important to recognise that higher cholesterol in the elderly actually serves to protect life! The misinformation surrounding cholesterol is astounding and the dangers of low cholesterol are vastly underplayed (low not being uncommon in vegans!). Throwing some maths at the problem fails to grasp the underlying issue that we use correlation of cholesterol numbers and mortality for too broadly. There is a correlation for sure but then if cholesterol is a byproduct of inflammation and failing health this does not necessarily translate to an individual eating a diet rich in fats and cholesterol and having high cholesterol being subject to the same health risks of the former. Triglycerides are actually a 4 times greater predictor of CVD risk than total cholesterol yet this is systematically overlooked and not well understood. Your doctor won’t raise an eyebrow at your soaring triglyceride levels but if that cholesterol reaches a certain point they will happily ram statins down your throat to damage your liver and interfere with the natural chemistry of a process that also helps to form CoQ10 (a powerful natural antioxidant) to reduce your relative risk (a further issue when big pharma showcase their drugs – relative risk vs total risk).

    • remaind

      It’s not slander if it’s true.

      Research never speaks for itself. Most of the research he has is incomplete, poorly structured (no control groups, etc), or is taken out of context (takes conclusions from lact-ovo vegetarians as proof that a vegan diet is good).

      The worst part is the fact that he’s an MD and putting out this bad information in an easily digestible (excuse the pun) format. It’s a living case of an argument from authority.

  • I’d really like to address Dr. Hall but since she has closed comments, I’ll post a few thoughts here instead:

    Any doctor/journalist promulgating health information is open to fair and balanced criticism. Just be honest and accurate and careful about your own references.

    The comparison of meat to a hand grenade was not Dr. Greger’s invention. He was quoting Nelson Cox of the USDA:

    Most of the U.S. population suffers an acute diarrheal illness every year, and according to a recent survey most people correctly identified food as the most common source—but , fewer than half, 45%, believed it’s legal for grocery stores to sell meat with food poisonging bacteria on it. You can’t sell unsafe cars, you can’t sell unsafe toys, how could they possibly sell unsafe meat.

    They do it by blaming the consumer. As USDA poultry microbiologist Nelson Cox said: “Raw meats are not idiot-proof. They can be mishandled and when they are, it’s like handling a hand grenade. If you pull the pin, somebody’s going to get hurt.” See if we get sick, it’s our fault.

    While some may question the wisdom of selling hand grenades in the supermarket, Cox disagrees: “I think the consumer has the most responsibility but refuses to accept it.” That’s like a car company saying yeah, we installed faulty brakes, but it’s your fault for not putting your kid in a seatbelt.

    Patricia Griffin, director of Epidemiological Research at the Centers for Disease Control responded famously to this kind of blame-the-victim attitude. “Is it reasonable,” she asked, ‘“that if a consumer undercooks a hamburger…their three-year-old dies?”

    As for plant-borne food poisoning, which plant has an enterobacteria-producing digestive tract? All food poisoning eventually traces back to animals.

    And for goodness sakes, Dr. Hall, if you’re gonna cite a study about Greenlandic Eskimos, give me a primary source. Please don’t send me to an Omega3 supplement seller’s website!

    Thanks.

    • Mimi

      “all food poisoning eventually traces back to animals”.
      This is true. But it does not justify plant based foods being seen as ‘safer’ alternative to meat in supermarkets.
      The most deadly food poisoning incident EVER recorded to date (53 dead) was in 2011
      in Germany. The cause was organically grown fenugreek seed sprouts.

      • Heather Leigh

        I grow most of my own vegetables, and I have never been sick from them. I understand that my garden doesn’t represent mass agriculture practices, but I will say my personal statistics- I have had food poisoning from eating cooked meat several times. I have not had food poisoning from eating vegetables. I would rather eat a zuchinni raw than a steak or a piece or chicken any day, because it just doesn’t seem safe to consume meat that way. I think we all know what happens to the body when a person or animal dies… I would not call eating meat in general a hygienic practice.

        • Glenn

          That’s a pretty dumb statement. Have you ever left some fruit in a bowl too long and watched it rot?!! Nice anecdotal statement about food poisoning from meat and not veg too – several times? Perhaps some cookery lessons are due – bacteria die at around 70 degrees and heating most foods to this temperature for long enough is adequate to remove this problem. You must have ether been a victim of poor food hygiene (cooked meat next to raw for example or prepared on a surface where raw has been) or simply undercooked the meat in the first place.

          • Dan Westford

            I’m unclear what Heather said that’s dumb. Fresh food from my garden presents no risk of food poisoning. The same cannot be said for the beef, pork, poultry, fish, milk, and eggs that I purchase at the local supermarket.

  • CommanderBill3

    I have followed Dr. Michael Greger for years. I have found many a nugget of useful data
    that I incorporated in my own nutritional plan.

    When Dr. Greger references a study that suggests significant life style changes I generally read the research myself to see if it is as stated. What I have found is Dr. Greger does cherry pick his facts and lays them out without balance.

    For example he states that the Omega 3s in milled flax seed is equivalent to what can be obtained in oily fish. The fact of the matter is they are not and I am sure Dr. Greger is well aware of that.

    Moreover a vegan diet is enormously difficult to maintain and has its own dangers of food poisoning and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It is facts that Dr. Greger fails to mention.

    I have the highest regard for Dr. Gerger. I follow his work closely. He is however deeply biased. Any dramatic nutritional changes he recommends needs to be done with research that goes beyond his entertaining videos.

    • A vegan diet is not “enormously difficult to maintain.” It can be difficult, given that most people are not vegan and most food that is prepared and ready to eat is not vegan. So that means you have to buy raw materials and make your own recipes. This can of course be more difficult than walking into a restaurant and pointing your finger at a nice-sounding name on a menu. But it is not “enormously” difficult.

      • Justin

        “A vegan diet is not “enormously difficult to maintain.””

        Average compliance among vegans is 3 months.

        • Erin E Zamzow

          I have found a whole food, plant based diet extremely easy to maintain as have many people I know. I did my homework, make a lot of food from scratch (legumes) and put effort into creating flavorful and nutritious meals. And I am that super busy working mom that ‘doesn’t have time’ to do this. Apparently I do. For me, my family, for the animals, for the planet. I agree that Dr. Greger should not skew his presentations – I see nothing wrong with saying “an egg or two a week is not harmful and may have health benefits according to some studies yet the humane and environmental impacts make a compelling argument to not consume eggs from an egg farm” or something like that. But I get that his schtik is to go at the issue from a science perspective and not the humane/environment perspective. Perhaps weaving all that information in and taking a more balanced approach to the nutrition science would be more pleasing to the HSUS.

          • The White Pariah

            I completely agree with you Erin. When I was living on the dole in the UK the cheapest foods were pasta and bread and baked beans, with frozen veggies. Not the most diverse of menus, but one which many people here are confined to because we’re having to rely on food banks and people only donate cheap food. People moan about it being expensive, but they’d also moan if their meat/dairy based budgets suddenly got slashed down to the Tesco Value bacon and ham that’s 99% water and 1% gristle too – plus that would be more expensive and higher in calories. The only reason I haven’t gone back to that now I actually am vegan is because I’ve grown so used to the more expensive items like gourmet cheeses, creme fraiche, grass-fed beef (what misleading label that is!) and sausages that actually contain something other than what was scraped off the boot of a slaughterhouse worker, that to look for vegan alternatives would be just as expensive. It probably feels more expensive because people are biased towards thinking it is. Anyway, I wish people would shut up about the expense of it and start thinking about the price of the health of their families and future generations’ right to a planet that doesn’t look like an Orwellian nightmare.

      • Rex

        It is difficult.. I know plenty who cheat.. one friend claims to be a 6 day a week Vegan and on Sundays gorges himself on as much meat as he can LOL. I live with a Vegan and his food costs are immensely higher than my own. The food products are very very expensive indeed and that’s even with his staff discount at the health food shop. It’s not just because vegan food isn’t more readily available. I’m a carnotarian of sorts and avoid carbs and plants as much as I can, and it’s difficult to buy takeaways and eat a set meal in a restaurant too without eating crap I don’t want.

        • Erin E Zamzow

          If one buys a lot of processed food and pre prepared food, it can be more expensive and also not as healthy as a WHOLE food plant based diet. Legumes and veggies and grains, even organic, get me out of the store with a lot less money than meat and dairy- of course meat and dairy, if the cheap stuff, is the most cruel.

  • Justin

    “Contaminated meat is still the leading cause of food-borne illness.”

    Yet more people get sick from plants?

  • Roberta Peck

    There must be a better use of time than bashing the pure-hearted, well researched efforts of Dr. Micheal Greger to enlighten the population toward freedom from unnecessary chronic diseases.

    • Glenn

      The chronic disease rates we see today in westernised cultures has nothing to do with animal product intake. Greger has an agenda, simple as that. Where were the obese type 2 diabetics 50 years ago?!! You only have to look to processed foods to find the root of modern disease. Countries that shun such foods do not have these problems regardless of animal product consumption. In a recent programme looking at diets and health side by side globally, Ethiopia faired well with low disease rates and a near vegan diet. France with its high saturated fat and cholesterol consumption did even better. Iceland came in at number one with a mixed and varied diet including animal products, milk, fish etc. Even the Massai scored well with their diet of almost 100% animal products. The one common factor all of the diets that favoured good health outcomes was a distinct lack of processed foods and plenty of vegetables. It is as simple as that.

    • Ninja McNinjaton

      the point is that he’s not pure-hearted. silly person

  • Awesome, thanks

  • Larry Gardner

    In one of his many videos Dr. Greger asserts that animal fat is the culprit for type 2 diabetes. He also asserts that beef will make one’s blood glucose spike. I did my own experiment eating nothing but beef for one meal. I also fried the beef in real butter. Before the meal my Blood glucose was 137. An hour later it was 129. Another hour later it was 115. The next morning it was 106. So, I began to wonder about this guy.

    • Ninja McNinjaton

      thanks so much. and kudos on doing your own homework! in real life! on yourself! It’s as though your really really smart or something.

  • Ninja McNinjaton

    vegans get cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes in numbers equal to an organic/home grown omnivore

  • Mark Kelman

    As it stands right now, nutrition research is a large pile of crap that is influenced heavily by people with agendas not necessarily matching your own. Therefore the only thing I rely on is personal evidence. My father turned 96 in August. He still enjoys the quality of his life, and has outlived his parents and siblings by an average of 18 years. What did he do differently? He was a monster gardener for 50 effing years. Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, etc… He is a fruit and vegetable eating machine! Of course he had a burger or hot dog now and then. He also loves milk and cheese. So I’m not reading SHAT about any of this anymore. It’s wasting a lot of my time and fueling my neurosis. I’m banking on my 1-person study
    (90% Veg. – 10% garbage) and running with it. Let the chips fall where they may.

  • aledokid

    All I know is that I followed his recommendations. I went from 210 lbs. to 160 in 4 months. My BP went from 160/100 to 110/70. My waist size from 38 to 32. In addition I did cardio 30 minutes every day. I used fresh juice from fruit and vegetables through my own juicer.

  • Marcus Riedner

    Exactly. The devil is in the details. I ate a 70-80% plant based diet and was 305lbs and had blood pressure high enough to block health insurance at the age of 28. Now a vegan may claim that the 20-30% of my diet not plant based was to blame. Turns out flipping to a 70+% animal based diet reversed all my health issues. (Though I do still have an ongoing issue with weight due to a damaged insulin and endocrine system from decades of shitty eating.)