BMPA recently wrote to Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet to challenge its Global Burden of Disease study and to ask him to remove it from the publication. It’s the latest in a string of requests from scientists and organisations who are concerned that incorrect information is being used to influence people’s dietary choices and public health policy.
You can read the full text of the letter below.
We are writing to The Lancet to express our concern over the potential consequences that will arise from flawed and incorrect scientific studies being used as the basis for Government health policy.
We refer to one in particular entitled ‘The Global Burden of Disease 2019’ (GBD) report published by The Lancet, which has been cited in such major and influential reports as the Government-commissioned National Food Strategy and the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) latest Five Year Strategy as well as hundreds of other articles, reports and studies that seek to influence people’s diets and health.
As you will be aware from other letters you have received and published challenging this study, it claims, incorrectly, a 36-fold increase in global deaths (since previous data was published in 2017) as a result of eating red meat, which its authors have since admitted is wrong. Indeed, the authors now acknowledge that actually “there is a clear protective relationship between red meat intake and haemorrhagic stroke, which will be reflected in the GBD 2020 findings.” However, to-date, their study has not been withdrawn by The Lancet and continues to be cited as ‘fact’ by organisations like the FSA.
We feel that the reason this has happened is a concerning lapse in The Lancet’s willingness to meet its own scientific standards. In publishing ‘The Global Burden of Disease 2019’ you failed to ensure that the correct due diligence was performed. It was not peer reviewed. It did not satisfy the PRISMA requirements of transparent reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Nor did it follow the Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting (Gather).
Our message is simple. We believe that we should keep studying the effects of food on our health, but we should only use evidence that meets the highest standards of scientific scrutiny and integrity on which to base advice to the public. If a study is proved to be wrong, it should not be used and should be withdrawn from publication. By maintaining public access to disputed and incorrect information you risk causing the unintended consequences of encouraging people to do something that could harm instead of help them because the wrong assumptions were used.
The science surrounding diet and health is developing rapidly and there is plenty of established evidence to show that meat, eaten in moderation, forms part of a balanced and healthy diet that supports human health. However, dietary advice has been somewhat hijacked by influential individuals and organisations who are often driven by other agendas and commercial interests which may not be as supportive to human health. We think that this study in its current form has the potential to encourage this kind of misinformation to shape people’s diets in a detrimental way.
The Chief Executive of the levy board, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has already written to The Lancet challenging you to share publicly the methodology used and the data that underpins this report saying: “Given that the authors of the study have acknowledged its shortcomings and have committed to publishing an updated version, I am surprised and concerned that The Lancet still has the old misleading study published on its website”.
And more recently, a group of eminent scientists from the World Cancer Research Fund International including the ex-head of the British Nutrition Foundation, Judy Butriss levelled this criticism at The Lancet: “When the assumptions used within a study are not clearly stated and explained, the results become questionable”. They go on to say that “the lack of transparency in the assumptions underlying the calculations undermines the authority of the GBD estimates”.
The British Meat Processors Association would like to add its voice to others who have challenged this study and to ask The Lancet to remove the disputed study from publication so it cannot be cited in any future reports, policy or advice.
Chief Executive Officer
British Meat Processors Association