Monday, November 8, 2010

Red meat and cancer: More misleading journalism

Yet another example of poor reporting is in todays paper. The headline Red Meat Linked to Cancer is only partly true.

First thing: It was a North American study. North American cows/beef are very often barn housed, or feed lot housed. What this means is that there food isn't grass but processed material. This could be a grain such as corn or a chicken feed type of pelts. What this means is North American cows are very low in cartenoids, vitamin E and Vitamin D. I also suspect that it is low in omega-3's that come from grass seeds and wonder about the vitamin B levels.

Therefore if red meat is supposed to have all these vitamins (minerals?) then it is no surprise that eating animals that get feed a low nutrient diet, very similar to a Western diet, results in increase in sickness. To me it is logical.

My frustration is that people in NZ might avoid red meat and have chicken instead. In NZ it is the chickens that have the western diet compared to the red meat.

Lastly if you read the fine print of the article you find that top 20% of meat consumers were approx 80% more likely to develop upper esophagus (throat) cancer, than the bottom 20%. So it is not just red meat consumption, it is excess red meat consumption. We are not told what top 20% consumed. However being a North American study, where the steaks are big, it is likely to be a very large volume. The study also estimated meat consumption, where the meat was cooked on barbecue, or other cooking method that produced "burnt" meat. It was the increased intake in the burnt meat that was thought to produce the increase. So again the title isn't true.

In summary the title Red Meat Linked to Cancer is misleading because:
  • It was North American red meat, not NZ red meat
  • It was very high levels of meat consumption 
  • It was only one cancer - cancer of the upper throat
  • It was intake of "burnt" meat that is thought to be the problem

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