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    Academic group calls for independent review of meat consumption health data

    Posted 18 March 2022

    "This paper has had such an impact and needs to be fully and independently reviewed via a transparent open process.”

    Harper Adams University is calling for crucial data on meat consumption that was used to develop key policy decisions to be released for independent review.

    A group of academic colleagues, headed by University Deputy Vice-Chancellor and sustainable livestock systems expert Professor Michael Lee, is the latest to add its weight to criticisms of data used in the most recently published Global Burden of Disease study, which linked red meat consumption to increased human deaths.

    The most recent edition of the influential study – published biannually in The Lancet medical journal – suggested that there had been an increase in global deaths linked to the eating of red meat from 25,000 in 2017 to 896,000 in 2019.

    This notable rise – a 36-fold increase over two years – has been called into question by a range of experts, and sector experts at Harper Adams are among those expressing concern.

    Professor Lee said: “We are asking the Lancet to explain how the analysis, which was carried out in 2017, and re-analysed in 2019, resulted in more than 30 times increase in risk factor – we would like to understand the new research which resulted in such a shift as it is not known in the current published literature.

    “Scientific findings need to be transparent with open data, and as the leading specialist University supporting agriculture, food production and land use, we need to challenge any scientific outputs which do not adhere to good scientific practices – no matter where they may have been published.

    “The data needs to be released for full, independent peer review – it is amazing, and somewhat disappointing, that the Lancet has not carried that out. Either the authors need to release the data, so it can be fully understood and analysed, or the Lancet should retract the paper.”

    Data from the paper has been cited in 635 documents, 351 scientific papers, and nine policy papers. Among the policy papers was the National Food Strategy, published in July 2021, where it was used to argue for a reduction in the consumption of red meat.

    The findings published in the Journal have also been challenged by a team of scientists led by Professor Alice Stanton of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, who recently had her team’s letter questioning the validity of the findings published in The Lancet, and by the trustees of the British Society of Animal Science. Professor Stanton is set to discuss her criticisms at the upcoming BSAS conference in April.

    Professor Lee emphasised that his concerns – and those of his colleagues at Harper Adams – were around the evidence which underpinned the changes in the Global Burden of Disease study, and about its release to allow independent analysis.

    He added: “Science is about challenging and responding through evidence. The Lancet has been challenged – it needs to respond with evidence. This paper has had such an impact and needs to be fully and independently reviewed via a transparent open process.”

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