Red meat may not be bad for you after all. An international team of scientists recently announced that extensive research found little to no scientific support for health guidelines that recommend not eating red and processed meats.
The researchers analyzed data from millions of people in three studies and found only a weak association between meat consumption and heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. A fourth review involving 54,000 people in 12 experimental trials found no association between eating red or processed meats and those diseases, the researchers reported in the journal The Annals of Internal Medicine on Oct. 1.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates for plant-based diets, filed a petition against the journal with the Federal Trade Commission, calling the report inaccurate and a disservice to public health. “These misrepresentations are directly at odds with abundant scientific evidence demonstrating the potential ill health effects of red and processed meat and the benefits of reducing consumption of red and processed meat,” said Neal Barnard, the committee’s president.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published an editorial saying the recommendations could harm people: “From a public health point of view, it is irresponsible and unethical to issue dietary guidelines that are tantamount to promoting meat consumption, even if there is still some uncertainty about the strength of the evidence.” It also criticized the researchers for not considering the environmental effects of meat production or animal welfare.
Bradley Johnston, one of the researchers, defended the work: “This is not just another study on red and processed meat, but a series of high-quality systematic reviews resulting in recommendations we think are far more transparent, robust and reliable.”
An editorial by authors at the Indiana University School of Medicine acknowledged the controversial nature of the researchers’ recommendations but said the study “is based on the most comprehensive review of the evidence to date,” and the experts who want to dispute it “will be hard-pressed to find appropriate evidence with which to build an argument.”
The researchers claimed no conflicts of interest and received no outside funding. —J.B.