From the Harvard University School of Public Health comes yet another indictment of red meat, this time as the cause of breast cancer. Only one problem: The researchers are wrong.

Yet another study involving red meat is getting the major media treatment, which is to say, unquestioning reprinting of the researchers’ observations: Eating a lot of red meat in early adult life may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, according to a new study. Before discussing the merits and the implications of this latest research, there are two problems, both of which seem to be chronic conditions connected with such studies, in that they recur again and again and again.

Commentary:  The ‘C-word’ strikes againIt gets tiring.

First of all, the study comes from our friends at the Harvard University School of Public Health, an organization that is shameless in its promotion of the vegetarian agenda. They hide behind the veneer of “objective scientific research,” and constantly tout the Harvard brand, as if that alone shields them from criticism that the HSPH principals may on occasion be promoting a political, rather than a scientific agenda.

Second, as is true of all studies that try to connect consumption of a certain food with the incidence of a complex disease that every scientists acknowledges has multi-faceted causation, the best they can do is quantify various levels of association: One behavior is associated with another outcome, but that’s as far as it goes.

Association is not causation, nor should it be reported as such.

But tell that to the media.

Revealing the real agenda

For example: The Associated Press reported that, “Women who often indulge their cravings for hamburgers, steaks and other red meat may have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.”

I’ll give the editor who wrote that caption some credit for adding the phrase “slightly higher,” but the idea that choosing to include red meat in one’s diet amounts to “indulging their cravings” implies that beef and pork are secret vices against which we must struggle to resist.


In the body of the AP story, we learn right up front that the Harvard researchers recommended “replacing red meat with a combination of beans, peas and lentils, poultry, nuts, and fish” to reduce the risk of breast cancer in younger women.

Notice: Replace, not reduce. The advocates at the HSPH couldn’t be more transparent about their vegetarian agenda if they showed up for their media availability wearing Saran wrap togas.

The study data comes from a project tracking health outcomes of 89,000 women aged 24 to 43, among whom some 3,000 developed breast cancer. (That incidence rate, by the way, is outrageous, and speaks to the seriousness of the disease. The proper response to those numbers shouldn’t be some hidden agenda to promote vegetarianism, but a Manhattan Project-level medical research project to find ways to prevent and treat the disease).

If anyone got past the headline — and actually processed the information that that the risk was only “slightly higher” — they might be persuaded that this news wasn’t cause for upending one’s diet.

Sally Greenbrook, a senior policy officer at the U.K. charity group Breakthrough Breast Cancer said the non-profit would welcome more research into the impact of red meat on breast cancer risk.

“It’s already been proven that women can reduce their breast cancer risk by maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing the amount of physical activity they do,” Greenbrook said.

Greenbrook was quoted because the study was published in the British Medical Journal.

Prof. Tim Key, an epidemiologist at Britain’s University of Oxford, added that the study found “only a weak link” between eating red meat and the risk of developing breast cancer, a connection that was “not strong enough to change the existing evidence that has found no definite link between the two.”

“Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol and being physically active,” Key said — anyone noticing a pattern here? — “and it’s not a bad idea to swap some red meat, which is linked to bowel cancer, for white meat, beans or fish.”

Prof. Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, told the BBC that dozens of studies had examined the association between breast cancer risk and diet.

“The totality of the available evidence indicates that red meat consumption has little or no effect on breast cancer risk, so results from a single study cannot be considered in isolation,” she said.

I have a question: Why shouldn’t that last quote be the basis of the headline on the news item? Rather than trying to spin the story to dredge up more innuendo about the (alleged) horrors of red meat.

In fact, when the study itself concludes that the risk is “weak,” and experts in the field acknowledge that no dietary evidence links eating red meat and developing breast cancer, maybe the study shouldn’t have even have been published in the first place.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.