Dietary Guidelines

‘Meat is OK’ Researcher Took Industry Funding

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

Oct 07, 2019

The author of a controversial new study saying red meat consumption may not be so bad for health is being criticized for having taken funding from a food industry front group for a similar study about sugar.

The meat study, published Oct. 1 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was done by a research team headed by Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada. Based on clinical trials involving 54,000 people, the study basically said that any health benefits from reducing consumption of red and processed meats, when viewed in the context of a large population, are so small as to become meaningless on an individual level.

The study instantly generated heated criticism when it was released. Now Johnston is coming under attack for having accepted funding from the Industry Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a food industry trade group, for a study in 2016 that reached a similar conclusion about guidelines for processed sugar.

The ILSI, whose members have included industry giants like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Cargill and McDonald’s, has been accused by the World Health Organization and others of existing to undermine scientific consensus about healthy dietary habits.

Johnston did not reveal his past relationship with the ILSI on a disclosure form for the red meat study, with which the ILSI is not associated. He noted that the disclosure form asked about industry funding for the past three years, and that ILSI funding for the sugar study fell outside that window.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and a prominent food industry critic, told the New York Times that even if ILSI had nothing to do with the red meat study, “the previous [sugar] paper suggests that Johnston is making a career of tearing down conventional nutrition wisdom.”

However, the editor in chief of the Annals of Internal Medicine told the Times that the journal would have published the study even if Johnston had disclosed his past relationship with the ILSI.