A head-spinning new study says red meat might not be unhealthy—but the lead author's past ties to the food and meat industry are raising a few eyebrows, the New York Times reports. "Journals require disclosure, and it is always better to disclose fully, if for no other reason than to stay out of trouble when the undisclosed conflicts are exposed," says a food and health professor. Bradley Johnston, who led the meat study, also led a similar 2016 study that questioned worldwide health guidelines advising people to cut down on sugar. But that study was funded by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an industry group backed by pharmaceutical, food, and agribusiness companies that have included McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Cargill, a major beef processor.
Johnston didn't reveal the tie in a recent disclosure form, saying it only included conflicts of interest over the past three years, and the last ILSI money came in 2015. "I have no relationship with them whatsoever," he added. In his defense, others say that other researchers have an anti-meat bias and there's no evidence that Johnston's past association influenced the study. Perhaps more importantly, critics of both studies say Johnston used a system called GRADE, which is used to evaluate scientific evidence in clinical drug trials—a high standard for dietary studies, which often mine data for health risk factors, per NPR. Others suggest Johnston might be playing the role of iconoclast. "Some people may be wondering what his next target will be," says a Harvard professor. (Read more red meat stories.)