Another week brings another sensational story about the dangers of eating meat. So, in my never-ending duty as shill for Big Food, Big Ag and a host of companies working diligently to poison America, the task at hand is to convince you the folks at Harvard are wrong. Except, that would be too obvious, and my colleague Dan Murphy has already chronicled the flaws of Harvard’s latest study into the health effects of red meat consumption. 

In case you missed news reports about the study, the Harvard School of Public Health says that eating meat – any amount and any type – appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death. This long-range study examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years. The report says that adding one 3-ounce serving of red meat to your daily diet was associated with a 13 percent greater chance of dying during the course of the study. That percentage goes up to 20 if you add an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon.

Those statistics are more than a little unnerving, especially for someone such as me who consumes more than 3 ounces of red meat a day. But my concerns are eased by analysis of the research by others who are not shills for Big Ag who point out many of the accusations by the Harvard team are dubious. For instance, Adam Bornstein, a blogger at Livestrong.com, notes, “a deeper look at the study shows some confounding variables that make it harder to believe that meat consumption is the real problem.”

One significant aspect of the Harvard study ignored in many reports is that the population studied was nurses. “All nurses,” Bornstein wrote. “This is not condemning the health profession, but nurses (and doctors) work some very difficult hours. They are not necessarily the model of health. Even if you disagree with that statement, nurses are not representative of the general population.”

So, the Harvard team studied the dietary intake of enough nurses to fill a football stadium for two decades, except, the research relied on questionnaires. That’s right, the nurses, maybe after pulling a long shift in the ER, were asked to recall what they had eaten. The American Meat Institute questioned such research that relies on “notoriously unreliable self-reporting about what was eaten and obtuse methods to apply statistical analysis to the data.”

Others analyzing the report point to this statement from the researchers as one that undermines their conclusion: “In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy but lower intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.”

Bornstein wrote, “One could just as easily argue that it was the lack of fruits…or vegetables…or whole grains…or all of them combined that contributed to the negative health assertions made by the researchers.”

In short, a lot of folks are shooting holes in this research. But, as with other anti-meat or anti-ag news stories, it’s more likely the general public will remember the sensational headlines – “Red meat linked to premature death”- than they will the flimsy basis of the researchers’ conclusion.