The Lancet is asked to retract 2019 report

​Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive Ian Stevenson has endorsed the formal request made this week by the Agriculture, Horticulture and Development Board (AHDB) to have The Lancet journal remove from publication The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2019 until it is confirmed it has gone through proper due process and scrutiny.

The Lancet is one of the world’s most respected medical journals.

GBD 2019, which was published in October 2020, has come under intense scrutiny from a wide range of noted research academics, representing all facets of medicine and the life sciences.

The main thrust of this criticism has focussed on the perceived lack of clarity within the 2019 study, the changes made to its investigative criteria - relative to those used to prepare previous editions of the report - and the apparent lack of information regarding the peer review opportunities that were developed around the 2019 study.

Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission
Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission
Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission

To the fore in expressing their disquiet concerning the entire fabric of GBD 2019 was a cohort of six leading research scientists, who wrote an open letter to the Lancet on the matter.

This group included Professor Chris Elliott, from Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Paddy Wall, from University College Dublin and Professor Alice Stanton, from Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons.

Ian Stevenson commented: “What makes the Global Burden of Disease Study so significant is the fact that its conclusions are used to help formulate nutritional and health strategies by governments around the world.

“The 2019 work specifically highlighted the perceived risks posed by the inclusion of red meat in the diet. However, little or no reference was made to the fact that beef and lamb contribute so much to health and nutrition within a balanced diet.

“The 2019 study also failed to confirm the fact that eating red meat can help to prevent the occurrence of numerous health-related problems, including the onset of ischaemic strokes.”

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The follow-up, GBD 2021 report, will be published in the near future. Ian Stevenson is hopeful that the upcoming publication will take a more balanced perspective on the risk factors, where the inclusion of red meat in the diet is concerned.

AHDB’scall for the formal retraction of GBDS 2019 comes in the form of an open letter, published this week.

It follows multiple requests for more clarity from The Lancet on whether the 2019 update was scrutinised by peers and conducted in line with appropriate procedures to ensure its accuracy.

Concerns were first raised by esteemed nutrition and health academics in late 2021, followed by another group, with links to the World Cancer Research Fund, in early 2022 who expressed their concerns over the reliability of the jump in deaths related to red meat consumption.

The authors of the 2019 study published a carefully considered response to AHDB’s letter on 4 March 2023, nine months after it was first sent.

Despite this, AHDB is still very much unclear on whether the data underwent independent scrutiny and whether its new evidence review process was carried out in accordance with relevant intellectual protocols.

AHDB’s Chief Executive Tim Rycroft commented: “The Lancet is a highly regarded medical journal and The Global Burden of Disease dataset is incredibly influential in public health and nutrition policy, therefore it is imperative that this science follows due process and critical review to ensure the greatest accuracy and, not least, legitimacy.

“As an evidence-based organisation, we are particularly concerned about the lack of transparency around how this data has been analysed and the way in which the new evidence review criteria has been determined.

“Therefore, on behalf of our levy payers, we will continue to push for transparency on this, to ensure the health impacts of red meat consumption are accurately depicted in science, policy and indeed society.

He continued: “Red meat offers a valuable contribution to a healthy balanced diet, and the authors of The Global Burden of Disease acknowledge that evidence which shows a protective relationship between red meat consumption and stroke has been overlooked.

“As has its protective relationship with iron deficiency anaemia, sarcopenia and child and maternal malnutrition.”

“AHDB hopes the health benefits red meat consumption brings to a balanced and healthy diet are reflected correctly in the study’s 2021 update which is expected imminently.”