Red meat study sees major pushback

A recent guideline published in the Annals of Internal Medicine is getting some serious blowback from medical professionals. That’s because the guideline stated adults can continue eating red and processed meat without much harm to their health, arguing that previous research showing health harms from these products is weak.

The guideline went against decades of research pointing to negative health impacts from consumption of red and processed meat, including higher risks of cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

Now, some medical experts are slamming the guideline after many headlines claimed the study puts red meat back on the table for many Americans. One Harvard University professor, Walter Willett, called out the researchers for “ignorance” by not utilizing “major parts of the available evidence,” he told Market Watch. Other groups, including the American College of Cardiology, have spoken out about the study, stating it was “alarmed” by the “reckless” findings.

And there is another major problem with the study published in Annals: the researcher leading the study, Bradley Johnston, PhD, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, did not disclose he actually had ties to the meat industry. The study had more than a dozen researchers on its publication, and Johnstone was among those who declared no conflicts of interest. However, Johnstone has a history of these types of studies looking to discredit health guidelines––paid for by industry trade groups with interests in the matter, The New York Times reported.

Specifically, Johnstone was the author of a study that looked to undermine evidence that advised people to eat less sugar. An industry trade group supported by major companies like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, International Life Sciences Institute, paid for that study, which was published in December 2016. A major beef processor, Cargill, was also a member of ILSI, and the group has been accused by the World Health Organization of trying to undermine public health interests, the NY Times reported.

The money for the sugar study was given in 2015, allowing Johnstone to report no conflicts of interest within the past three years for the most recent red meat guideline. ISLI is not listed as funding the recent red meat study.

Johnstone has also backtracked slightly on his previous sugar study, saying he was “naïve” to work on the sugar guidelines, the NY Times reported. Editors at the Annals of Internal Medicine have also defended their decision to publish the red and processed meat study.