Scientist behind controversial red meat findings did not disclose conflicts of interest

The lead researcher behind the findings released last week that stated most people can continue to eat red and processed meat as usual has several ties to the meat and food industry that he failed to disclose.

The so-called research has come under intense scrutiny since it was released, with medical and public health officials questioning the study’s methods. As it turns out, the study, led by Bradley Johnston, PhD, a Canadian epidemiologist, was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a non-profit largely supported by corporations such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Cargill, one of the largest beef processors in North America.

The ILSI has long been accused by the World Health Organization and others for acting in the interest of its corporate partners while trying to undermine public health recommendations. In fact, according to the New York Times, Johnston was the senior author on a similar study in December 2016 that tried to discredit health guidelines advising people to eat less sugar.  

Johnston told the New York Times that he did not disclose the relationship because he received the funding in 2015, which falls outside of the three-year period for disclosing competing interests.

Nevertheless, this “discovery” solidifies the need for health professionals to encourage patients to look beyond the headlines and focus on the totality of the evidence. Existing recommendations are based on solid evidence from randomized-controlled studies.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “to improve both human health and environmental sustainability, it is important to adopt dietary patterns that are high in healthy plant-based foods and relatively low in red and processed meats.”