Red Meat Nutrition Study Questioned Once Again


By Mayzie Purviance

Funding — a word that sparks a love-hate relationship with every researcher.  The simple fact is proper research cannot be conducted without proper funding, and that funding has to come from some source.

On December 31, 2019, Annals of Internal Medicine released a correction to a previously published study titled, “Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium.”

The correction is as follows: On the author disclosure forms accompanying recent related articles on red and processed meat consumption and health outcomes (1–6), Bradley Johnston did not indicate a grant from Texas A&M AgriLife Research to fund investigator-driven research related to saturated and polyunsaturated fats.  This funding is for work in the field of nutrition and the start of funding period was within the 36-month reporting period required in Section 3 of the disclosure form of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).  Dr. Johnston has updated his disclosure form to include this research funding and also to note funding received from the International Life Science Institute (North America) that ended before the 36-month ICMJE reporting period.  The corrected disclosure forms now accompany the articles (1–6).

Because the original study went against numerous previous studies, this statement added more fuel to the already-speculated flame, leaving cattlemen and women wondering, “Now what?”

 

The Original Study…

To first understand this study as a whole, the methods used must be understood.

As stated in the original study, recommendations were developed using the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) guideline development process, “which includes rigorous systematic review methodology, and GRADE methods to rate the certainty of evidence for each outcome and to move from evidence to recommendations.”

The research was reviewed by a panel of 14 members from seven countries.  These 14 members were made up of methodologists, physicians, a pediatrician, a nutritionist, a nutrition scientist, a nutrition epidemiologist, a bioinformatician, a Ph.D. student, a guideline consultant and three community members/nonmedical public partners.  Each of these panelists underwent a strict review of criteria to determine any bias and it was determined that none of the panelists had financial nor intellectual conflicts.

Environmental impact and animal welfare were not factored into the recommendations.  This study was strictly based on the health effects associated with consumption of unprocessed and processed red meat.

It is also important to note that there was no primary source of funding for this study.  A grant was received by Dr. El Dib from the Sa ̃o Paulo Research Foundation scholarship and funding from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and the Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University.

After conducting a study of 12 unique trials involving 54,000 participants and reviewing 50 articles of literature, the panel concluded that red meat isn’t as bad for the consumer as some medical journals suggest.

The study concluded with a recommendation for Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat.  In summary, the panel recommended current consumption of both unprocessed and processed red meat.  For both recommendations, 11 of 14 panelists voted for current consumption whereas three panelists voted for a “weak recommendation” to reduce red meat consumption.

“Contemporary dietary guidelines recommend limiting consumption of unprocessed red meat and processed meat…” the study introduction reads, followed by examples of this recommendation.

“These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects,” according to the study.

It continues by suggesting these studies raise questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.

 

Today’s Issue In Question…

 

Dr. Bradley Johnston was a panel member and is the co-founder of NutriRECS.  Previously, Johnston was employed by Dalhousie University and is currently employed by Texas A&M University (TAMU) as a professor in the Nutrition and Food Science Department.

Johnston was granted a large sum of money by TAMU for a study involving saturated and polyunsaturated fats in attempts to ‘get a jump on’ the study before his official employment by TAMU.  Johnston’s position began after publication of the original red meat study and wasn’t intended to begin until August 2020.

Another panelist, Dr. Patrick Stover, is the dean and vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife.  When the study began, Stover was employed by Cornell University.

Many critics challenge the involvement of AgriLife in this study, due to its ties to agriculture as well as Johnston’s failure to disclose his study on fats.

Holly Shive, an AgriLife spokesperson, assured skeptics that there is no correlation between Johnston’s study on fats and the red meat study.

“Dr. Johnston is committed to full transparency.  It is incorrect to suggest he had any conflicts of interest.  As documented in the revised disclosure, no industry funds were used to fund the red and processed meat studies published in the Annals,” she told USA Today.

Dr. Christine Laine, Annals’ editor-in-chief, said Annals requires authors to report and disclose financial relationships within the past 36 months which are relevant to the current study they’re conducting.

However, Laine said Johnston did not disclose his funding from TAMU because he “misunderstood the disclosure policy.”

“The grant was from Texas A&M AgriLife institutional funds, not a sponsoring organization, industry or company.  The beef industry is not listed as a source of this funding because it was not a source of this funding,” Laine said.

Stover agreed with Laine and said there was no conflict of interest between Johnston and the Red Meat Study.  He said the grant in question was awarded for an unrelated study near the end of the red meat study and that Johnston followed protocol on the original disclosure rules.

“People are running with an appearance of conflict, but none of those monies have anything to do with the red meat study, nor was there a requirement for them to be disclosed,” Stover said.

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