The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is using cartoon characters to discourage milk drinking among young children and teenagers -- and the outcome of this irresponsible campaign could have serious health implications.

Once again, these inaccurate and misleading statements about milk are prompted by the group's attempt to further its animal rights agenda and promote a strict vegan diet. The real tragedy is that this time PETA is targeting children and teenagers who critically need the calcium and other essential nutrients in milk for proper growth and development.

According to government statistics, nine out of 10 girls and seven out of 10 boys (ages 12-19) currently fail to meet the recommended daily amount of calcium of 1,300 mg per day, or the equivalent of about four 8-ounce glasses of milk. As one of the best dietary sources of calcium, milk is an important part of any child's diet during the critical bone-building years.

Sensationalism -- not science -- is what guides PETA's programs. The group's nutritional advice is at polar opposites of the government's guidelines and the recommendations of reputable health and nutrition groups in this country -- including the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Osteoporosis Foundation, American Dietetic Association and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons among others.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a policy statement to address the widespread calcium deficiencies among children. The statement notes that because of these deficiencies, pediatricians should recommend a daily diet that includes milk, yogurt, cheese and other calcium-rich foods. Calcium is critical during these bone-building years, which represent a limited-time only to achieve maximal peak bone mass and protect against the future development of osteoporosis.

Additionally, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development -- one of the Institutes of the federal government's National Institutes of Health -- has joined forces with the National Dairy Council to launch new materials called "Get Up and Grow." Distributed through pediatricians' offices, these materials are designed to educate health professionals and parents about good nutrition and the role that calcium-rich milk plays in proper growth and development.

At a time when other physicians, dietitians, nurses and the government are encouraging America's youth to drink more milk to get the calcium their growing bodies desperately need, PETA is providing contrary messages that will only confuse the public and make the current "calcium crisis" even more challenging to overcome.

CONTACT: Allison Madell of NDC, 847-803-2000, ext. 280, or Susan Ruland of MilkPEP, 202-220-3549.