Devenish tackles ‘lack of transparency’ over red meat health effects

Additional reporting by Niall Claffey

There is a lack of transparency in global health figures pertaining to the impact of red meat, according to a senior figure from Devenish Nutrition.

Dr. John Gilliland, Devenish’s director of agriculture, was speaking at Bord Bia’s Meat Marketing Seminar this morning, Friday, January 10.

Giving a presentation on behalf of his colleague Prof. Alice Stanton – who spoke to AgriLand last year on the same topic –  Dr. Gilliland suggested a lack of transparency when red meat is discussed, while also alluding to what he believes is one-sided reporting by the media.

We continue to have dramatic news headlines and television ‘documentaries’. In my 30 years of being in agriculture, I don’t remember such a period of onslaught on our industry.

“What we’ve been trying to do is bring some transparency to the debate,” Dr. Gilliland added.

Citing an example where, according to Dr. Gilliland, there is a lack of transparency, he referenced The Lancet medical journal which, this time last year, published a report in conjunction with the EAT Foundation which advocated for a massive reduction in red meat consumption.

“If you’re going to take on the The Lancet, use The Lancet’s data to do it,” Gilliland said, before proceeding to highlight the medical journal’s global disease risk factors for humans in 2017 – data which is updated every two years.

It was highlighted that there are far more people who are ill as a result of nutritional deficiencies, rather than nutritional excesses.

“How many times, on a food label, have you seen anything about nutritional deficiencies. It’s always about nutritional excesses,” Dr. Gilliland argued.

In terms of risk factors from nutritional excess – apparently according to The Lancet’s own 2017 data – he commented: “If you look at diets high in calories and diets high in sodium; if you put those two together, that is 90% of those who are ill. Diets high in red meat account for not even 0.5%.

“When do you hear that in the press?” he asked.

35.4 million people in the world are ill because of diets low in iron. Where do we get our iron from? We get it from red meat.

“When you look at excessive red meat, you’ve only got 0.78 million people ill from too much red meat. When is that story ever told? It’s not,” Dr. Gilliland added.

2019 data

Turning his attention to The Lancet‘s global disease risk factors for 2019, Dr. Gilliland highlighted: “There are two lines that are omitted from its table.

“The first one is [a] diet [that is] high in calories. The second one is [a] diet [that is] low in iron. Why has The Lancet chosen to omit those?” he again asked.

“That gives you an idea of the scale of the challenge we have ahead, when you have the global bible of medical science not being truly transparent – because, as far as we know, people are still ill as a result of low iron.”

Dr. Gilliland then went on to highlight the impact that a lack of red meat has in relation to childhood stunting.

“If you look at the percentage of children who have stunted growth and then look at…who eats the most meat. When you break it out on a national basis, you can see an inverse trend,” he pointed out.

He also referenced a study carried out by researchers from Harvard university, which found that school children in Kenya on a diet of both meat and dairy performed better than children on a local, more plant-based diet.