Intended for healthcare professionals


Food fight: controversy over red meat guidelines rumbles on

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 06 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m397
  1. Owen Dyer, freelance journalist
  1. Montreal
  1. owen_dyer{at}

The conventional wisdom of cutting red meat from the diets of people in wealthier countries was largely unquestioned until last autumn. Owen Dyer finds that the battle is still raging

Few studies have landed with quite such a bang as the dietary guideline recommendations published last October in the Annals of Internal Medicine.1 After a thorough meta-analysis that largely discounted all but the highest quality randomised studies, an international review panel reached a conclusion directly contrary to the public health advice we’ve heard for years. They suggested that adults should continue their current consumption of both red and processed meat.

To call the reaction sharp would be an understatement. One critic branded the study “information terrorism.” Another reported it to authorities, demanding that they press charges of reckless endangerment.

Battle has raged in the media ever since. Accusations have flown of conflicts of interest and of bad faith; and Texas A&M University, which employs key study authors, is now demanding that Harvard University investigate two leading nutrition experts who are among the guidelines’ critics.

Where’s the beef?

Detractors and defenders of the guidance sprang forth with uncanny speed—a little too quickly in the case of some detractors, said the Annals’ editor, Christine Laine. She accused David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Connecticut, of breaching the journal’s embargo by sharing an early manuscript to mount a rapid response campaign before the guidelines were published—a charge denied by Katz and colleagues. She also complained of being targeted by an email “bot” that bombarded her with about 2000 near identical complaints in half an hour.

Who produced these guidelines?

A panel of 14 members from seven countries, including three lay members, voted on the recommendations. The work was led by NutriRECS, which describes itself as an independent group “unencumbered by institutional constraints and …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription