Health Study Anti-Vegetarian, PETA Says

By Nikki Werking

Assistant University Editor

January 08, 2003

Officials for an animal rights activist group said Tuesday that they are protesting a UNC research study that could be funded with settlement money from a lawsuit against the McDonald's Corp. because the researcher is anti-vegetarian.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Steven Zeisel, professor and chairman of UNC's Department of Nutrition, should not be given the $250,000 he is slated to receive from the settlement because his study does not support a vegetarian organization.

In May 2002, McDonald's agreed to pay out $12.5 million in a class action lawsuit filed by vegetarians concerned about the fast-food chain's deceptive use of beef flavoring in its french fries.

As part of the settlement, McDonald's will give $6 million of the payout to vegetarian organizations. Under that heading, Zeisel is set to receive $250,000 of the settlement money to help fund a study examining the relationship between the amount of choline -- a nutrient commonly found in milk and eggs -- in a pregnant vegan woman's diet and the memory of the infant.

Judge Richard Siebel, a Cook County Circuit Court judge in Chicago, would not comment on the McDonald's settlement because the list of fund recipients has not been approved yet.

Hannah Schein, research associate for PETA's Research and Investigations Department, said Zeisel's study -- which also is funded by the American Egg Board and the United Egg Producers' Egg Nutrition Center -- opposes a strict vegetarian diet.

The research itself is anti-vegetarian, she said. He does research to support the egg industry.

But Zeisel said the funding from the settlement money will be used to examine how choline affects the memories of infants born from mothers with vegan diets.

The research will help vegetarians understand the relationship between their diets and brain development, he said.

Schein said PETA also is opposed to UNC's funding from the McDonald's settlement because of the University's alleged inhumane animal treatment controversy last year.

Last April, PETA released a video, shot by undercover investigator Kate Turlington, showing UNC researchers decapitating mice with scissors and live mice feeding on a dead mouse.

The video and complaints filed by PETA prompted the National Institutes of Health to request an investigation of UNC's animal care and use program.

Schein said PETA also disagrees with the funding of Zeisel's study because it involved the use of rats in its earlier stages.

UNC conducts numerous animal research studies, she said. We just don't believe in (experimentation on animals).

But Zeisel said the money being provided by the settlement will support research on human subjects only.

There are no animals in this study, he said. PETA has no right to protest.

Although Zeisel said PETA's opposition to his research is unreasonable, Schein said the group will continue to lobby against funding for UNC through the McDonald's settlement.

It's shocking that McDonald's would think UNC is an appropriate recipient (for this money).

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