Hurrah - Eating Red Meat is Good for You!thoughts & comment — 22 Feb 2011
AT LEAST, this was the headline in the Daily Mail newspaper at the weekend. The article was based on a 77-page review put out by the British Nutrition Foundation which examined evidence on health and red meat, and found no evidence of 'negative health effects'. The article was backed up medically by a Dr. Carrie Ruxton, "an independent dietician and member of the Meat Advisory Panel", who confirmed that:
"This review highlights that eating red meat in moderation is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It also lays to rest many of the misconceptions about meat and health … there is no reason to eat less red meat if you enjoy it … There is less saturated fat in a grilled pork steak than a grilled chicken breast with the skin left on."
Of course, you only have to look a little further down in the article to find out that the journal of the British Nutrition Foundation is funded by the food industry. What a surprise! And an email to Ruxton requesting more information on the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) — which currently shows up in no search engines — elicited this response from a PR agent:
"MAP is a very new group, which could explain why you have not heard of them before. It is comprised of healthcare professionals, scientists and researchers who provide independent and objective information about red meat and its role as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Each member brings slightly different expertise to the group and is well established and respected in their own fields. The Panel currently receives an unrestricted educational grant from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board."
So basically the meat industry has funded a 'report' which says that meat is good for you — surprise surprise — and they have a female PhD doctor (I am sure people trust female doctors more than men regarding food issues) to scientifically back up the report, a doctor who appears to be sponsored by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) through her role on the Meat Advisory Panel which is funded by the AHDB. Indeed, Ruxton's own website presents her as an academic who works closely with industry.
What I find a little remarkable is that Ruxton is described in the article as "an independent dietician". If a dietician is on the board of an industry-sponsored marketing/PR organisation and writes papers for a journal also sponsored by the food industry, can that person be described as "independent"? And is it really in the public interest to have a doctor (few know the difference between a PhD and a medical doctor) inform them that "there is no reason to eat less red meat if you enjoy it" when that doctor is on the Meat Advisory Panel which is sponsored by the meat industry itself?
In all fairness, the Daily Mail article did report the response of Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific advisor for World Cancer Research Fund, to this report:
"This paper is not a systematic review of the evidence and does not change the fact that there is convincing evidence that red and processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer … to suggest, as the authors of this review have done, that there is "no evidence" that a moderate intake of lean red meat has any negative effects is wrong.
"Essentially, the public has a choice between believing our findings — which are those of an independent panel of scientists after a systematic and transparent review of the complete global evidence — or the conclusions of this review."
What Wiseman is saying here, in a polite and academic way, is that this industry-sponsored report in the British Nutrition Foundation extolling the virtues of red meat is basically BS.
In fact, Wiseman is obviously taking a very conservative view of meat and he has to somewhat mince his words (pardon the pun) because even a respected academic in his position will be a little afraid of the might of the food industry. Just look what happened to respected researcher Dr. Arpad Pusztai when he reported findings that the biotech food industry were unhappy with — he was thrown out of his job and vilified by an academic industry that prostitutes itself to big business.
One of the largest and most comprehensive academic studies on the effects of different diets on health — The China Study — clearly demonstrated that a meat based diet is less healthy and correlated in the rise of many modern degenerative diseases including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. And this study showed that it was not only the fat content of meat that was a problem, but animal proteins as well. So trying to justify meat as healthy by just looking at its fat content is misleading as it is only part of the story.
Of course, Ruxton who is promoting meat eating is perfectly entitled to act as a consultant for the meat industry. Many academics do have commercial ties, and must declare those ties if they put forward serious peer-reviewed academic papers.
Ruxton certainly has not broken any laws and is probably a very upstanding and lovely person. After all, she is just making a living, as we all have to. And the same probably applies to the PR agent for the Meat Advisory Panel. These women no doubt love their children (if they have any) and would probably be great company if you sat beside them at a dinner party. They may even give generously to charity and really believe in what they are promoting. And yet, by their actions, they are promoting a dietary PR report posing as science, when it is anything but, a report written to encourage the general public to go back to eating more red meat when independent scientists have clearly shown that meat, especially red meat, can cause serious diseases.
We cannot point a finger at Ruxton or anyone else involved in this charade because we are all prostituting ourselves to big business in one way or another. It is how modern society works. Every time we shop in a supermarket, fill our car with petrol, pay our taxes, subscribe to satellite channels, watch television, fly to holiday destinations etc. etc. we are supporting big businesses in one way or another, because big business is at the heart of modern society. And the bottom line for big businesses is profit, which is why profit is pursued relentlessly, regardless of quaint notions like morality and conscience. (Small businesses can also be ruthless in their pursuit of profit, although small businesses are more likely to reflect the values of their owners — big businesses reflect the value of their shareholders which are looking to increase their money, pure and simple.)
So this story in the Daily Mail merely shows us how big business goes about promoting its wares — start a foundation or board, write pseudo-scientific reports and hire doctors/academics willing to do your PR. It is the way that industry works. In fact, taking it further we might even see that much of modern medicine has become a pharmaceutically-sponsored marketing machine for drugs and other chemicals that make the pharmaceutical giants multi-billion dollar profits each year. The question is, with that kind of money sloshing around, can we ever be sure of the scientific veracity of the medical advice we receive from our doctors and other health specialists?