To eat meat or not to eat meat? That question has been the topic of debate for ages amongst scientists. Years of shock headlines have led many Americans to believe that meat contributes to adverse health effects. But the headlines may be based on junk science. Last September, a new series of studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM) found a fatal flaw with much of the anti-meat research.
The studies, which looked at 61 past studies with a total of over 4 million participants, found the “magnitude of association between red and processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality and adverse cardiometabolic outcomes is very small, and the evidence is of low certainty.” Additionally, much of the testing done previously used observational studies, which require participants to recall exactly what they ate sometimes weeks in the past. This is not exactly a reliable way to collect data.
Of course, not everyone appreciated the groundbreaking developments created by these new studies. The so-called True Health Initiative led the charge to attempt to discredit the research. THI credits itself as an organization that is “fighting fake facts.” But according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, THI looks more like censors.
Before the research could even be published, AIM’s editor in chief, Dr. Christine Laine, claims she was personally asked not to run the story by Dr. David Katz, THI’s leader and founder, and members of THI’s council of directors, Dr. Frank Hu and Dr. Walter Willett. Willet has argued that vegan diets are good for the planet, and Hu has claimed that plant-based fake meat products are a step in the right direction.
As part of its attempt to discredit the studies, THI spammed the email inbox of Dr. Laine. In the span of a half-hour, the organization purportedly used bots to send around 2,000 similarly worded emails, causing Laine’s inbox to shut down. Laine commented that the THI’s response was more vitriolic than the NRA’s response to AIM’s studies on firearm injury prevention.
But it didn’t stop there.
In an attempt to lessen the impact of the AIM studies, Katz and Willett published an article that attempts to make observational studies seem credible. On another occasion, Willett trashed the AIM studies during his keynote address at a cardiology conference. In the same speech, he called the study’s co-author, Dr. Patrick Stover, dean of Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a “Big Beef” acolyte. This is despite the fact that Dr. Stover’s college received less than 2% of its funding from the beef industry.
Willett’s accusations were not taken lightly. Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp responded to the situation by sending Harvard University’s president a letter calling for an investigation into Hu and Willett. Additionally, members of the medical academic community also responded. Steven Novella, professor at Yale’s School of Medicine, called THI’s attacks “a total hit job.” Tufts University professor Sheldon Krimsky said what THI is doing “sounds like a political campaign.”
Moreover, THI’s response reeks of hypocrisy. THI’s website lists partners including #NoBeef; fake meat maker Quorn; and the Plantrician Project, an organization whose goal is to spread propaganda favoring vegan diets. Another partner, Wholesome Goodness, sells “healthy” versions of chips, dressings, and granola mixes that were “developed with guidance” from THI’s founder David Katz.
Considering all the ties THI has to the plant-based food industry, it makes sense that it would try to discredit the latest research. But in doing so, it exposes its own lack of credibility.