Concerns have arisen over the use of the Global Burden of Disease 2019 (GBD) study, which claims any consumption of red meat is harmful, in the formation of policy in the UK.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has written to The Lancet medical journal, which published the original research, expressing its concern.

The findings, which the authors have confirmed are incorrect, have been used in the UK government commissioned national food strategy and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) latest five-year strategy.

The BMPA has called for the contentious study to be withdrawn.

The letter states: "If a study is proven to be wrong, it should not be used and should be withdrawn from publication.

"By maintaining public access to disputed and incorrect information, The Lancet risks causing unintended consequences of encouraging people to do something that could harm instead of helping them because the wrong assumptions were used."

"If a study is proven to be wrong, it should not be used and should be withdrawn from publication" - British Meat Processors Association.

The BMPA’s challenge follows correspondence last August in The Lancet from World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) and The Academy of Nutrition Sciences, which challenged the assumptions behind the finding on the health risks of red meat.

Notwithstanding WCRF’s finding of a relationship between red and processed meat and colorectal cancer, it stated that it does not recommend complete avoidance of meat.

It noted that red meat is an important source of several nutrients and removing it from the diet carries a risk of nutritional deficiency judged to outweigh future cancer risk.


A team of scientists, led by Prof Alice Stanton of Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, mounted the initial challenge to the GBD finding.

They challenged the methodology used by GBD collaborators and the conclusions they were drawing about the links between dietary factors and diseases. Specifically, the findings on red meat were seen as troublesome.

Following the use of new assumptions in the 2019 GBD research, a diet high in red meat was reported to be responsible for 896,000 deaths. This was a 36-fold increase on 2017, which used earlier assumptions.

Essentially, in the space of two years, eating unprocessed red meat moved from being the least important of 21 dietary risk factors to the seventh leading dietary risk factor for ill health and death.

'Not reliable'

The lead author of the GBD research group that published the original paper has already confirmed, in March 2022, that the finding that red meat is harmful is not reliable.

Dr Christopher Murray noted that based on updated methodology, deaths attributable to red meat will be reduced based on this forthcoming analysis.

Indeed, he went further to confirm that based on the new methodology, the strength of evidence between red meat and various outcomes is relatively weak.

He also confirmed that is a clear protective relationship between red meat intake and haemorrhagic stroke, which will be reflected in the GBD 2020 findings. This has been welcomed by those challenging the data.