Flawed Red Meat Study: You Are What Your Food Ate

raw beefAre beef eaters doomed to an early death?
A recent Harvard study, accompanied by some unduly alarmist articles in the press, found that the consumption of red meat is associated with higher mortality rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The study recommends substituting “healthy” protein sources such as fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes to reduce mortality.
We see a number of big problems with this study.
First, the study was conducted over a very long period of time (28 years for women, 22 years for men) by sending out food questionnaires every four years. Self-reporting, much less every four years, is not a reliable method of data gathering.
Second, and even more importantly, the study did not differentiate between organic, grass-fed beef, and non-organic, CAFO-raised beef. As Dr. Joseph Mercola points out, the nutritive value of the each is very different!
Because of the conditions and the grain-based feed used in factory farms, conventional beef may contain over twenty times the amount of omega-6 fatty acids (associated with arthritis, chronic inflammation, and cancer) than healthful omega-3 fatty acids (which help blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the heart). By contrast, grass-fed beef typically has nearly seven times more omega-3s than omega-6s.
In fact, eating moderate amounts of grass-fed beef for even four weeks will give you healthier levels of essential fats, according to a 2011 study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Healthy volunteers who ate grass-fed meat increased their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and decreased their level of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Grass-fed beef is far healthier than grain-fed beef for a number of reasons. For example, it has four times the amount of complete complex vitamin E than grain-fed beef. Complete complex vitamin E deficiencies have been linked with diabetes, immune disorders, Parkinson’s disease, eye diseases, and lung and liver diseases, so eating grass-fed beef would help prevent that deficiency. And this is just one factor among many. Grass-fed beef is lower in total fat, higher in beta-carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and higher in CLA, a potential cancer fighter.
To make no distinction between grass-fed and grain-fed beef in the study is just absurd. But it is not unusual. Indeed, the whole thrust of USDA policy is to treat all farm commodities as identical and to deny any differences. Not surprisingly, this also reflects the views and wishes of major food producers who do not want competition from differentiated products and who look to government to outlaw claims of differences or even outlaw pricing differences.
When we write about “grain-fed beef,” please understand that this is shorthand. One of the feedlot practices involves feeding cattle grain that has been laced with chicken litter, cattle blood, and restaurant leftovers—to boost the nutritive content. In the UK and Canada, the feed may be laced with meat and bone meal, blood meal, and meat scraps, and this proved to be the vector for mad cow disease: it comes from eating brain and other nerve tissues of already-infected animals.
So far as we know, mad cow disease is not yet a widespread problem in US, but we wouldn’t count on the USDA to find it. And the disease is propagated through the very same feed practices that our CAFOs currently use. As John Stauber, co-author of Mad Cow USA, notes, “The entire US policy is designed to protect the livestock industry’s access to slaughterhouse waste as cheap feed.”
In short, if you eat meat, you’re not what you eat—you are what your food ate!
A third problem with the study is the authors’ simple recommendation to “eat more fish and chicken.” In fact, a lot of seafood is contaminated with mercury, as well as carcinogenic PCBs. So eating too much fish can be hazardous to your health as well.
Chickens in factory farms are also fed slaughterhouse waste. This is one of the factors believed to account for the high salmonella rate: 28.8% of eggs from chickens in factory farms have salmonella, whereas cage-free chickens’ eggs have only a 4.3% salmonella rate. The latter are also higher in vitamins and lower in cholesterol.
The conventional food supply is dominated by animals raised in unhealthy conditions, and the government is creating a system that supports factory farms. You may have read about the “lean, finely textured beef”—bovine connective tissue and beef scraps, finely ground and washed in ammonium hydroxide and formed into a paste known as “pink slime” which has been used as a low-cost filler for ground beef— that is reportedly on its way out at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King. But according to Mother Jones, the USDA plans to keep ordering pink slime for use in its National School Lunch Program, which serves low-income students.
If ammonium hydroxide, a chemical also found in household cleaners, is unfit for the fast food industry, how is it safe for our school children? Fifty years ago, the USDA was an agency doing its best to make things better. How did it go so wrong?
Many human populations following a natural diet—particularly hunter–gatherers—have led remarkably healthy lives feeding predominately on red meat. For example, Native Americans amazed explorers and colonists with their remarkable health even though their diet consisted mainly of animal meat, organs, and fatty parts. But that was organic, free-range, grass-fed meat, not factory farm beef.
The Harvard “red meat” study was not only fatally flawed from the outset, it offered reckless (and scientifically unsound) advice.


  1. People with grain allergies especially need to eat grass fed, organic protein for this reason. Doctors need to start telling their patients/clients this.

    1. You can ask at your local health food store or search online-there a quite a few across the states.
      Before I found local I got from Michigan and they shipped in dry ice, as it was a 2-day trip.

  2. I concur! With gmo alfalfa will we have safe grass fed cattle? Alfalfa is a crop that dosn’t need much in the way of weed killers, this new gmo alfalfa will use massive pesticides. Back door way to ruin the grass fed beef movement! There tactics are alway back door! Notice all the puffy obese people everywhere- even alot of the actors in hollywood who used to be lean are all fat now! All these poisons are making fat. yet starving- ” for nutrients”, zombies. I love to look at old photographs especially of several people crowds if you will, and notice that accross all age groups people are of normal weights its quite amazing! Its the food supply people! Its quit difficult to source out any foods that arn’t contaminated w/ chemicals. I will pray for all of humanity that we will wake up and stop them. Don’t buy their crap vote w/ your dollars- grow your own food too!!!!

      1. During the winter the cattle need more than grass in most locals, as there is no or little of it to be found.

      2. Cheryl,
        Simply put, in warm weather cattle, goats etc can feed on grass because it is available. But in winter the grass is dead and in many places under a lot of snow and not available as feed. Therefore the alfalfa that was grown during the summer and stored away is fed to the animals during the winter.
        Hope that helps to explain it for you.

  3. When these disgusting processes are so commonplace, meat should ,at least, be labeled and if we can`t get them banned, we must educate consumers. If people know what they are eating,and more importantly, what they are feeding their children, it will effect what they buy and they will demand healthier, cleaner food. Manufacturers will only respond to lower sales. They do not care about our health.

  4. You may not like the method of self reporting what was eaten but realistically a longitudinal study of this length of time has no other method of reporting consumption. It isn’t that unreliable – people generally know what they ate. Also, it can be assumed that most of the meat eaten was not organic, grass-fed simply because that is a very small proportion of the market as you also acknowledge in your article. So even if was consumed by some it isn’t going to change the results dramatically.
    The Harvard study was not as flawed as you make it out to be. It certainly wasn’t reckless. Information of eating habits of the Native Americans or hunter gatherers is certainly on a lot shakier ground that the Harvard study simply because it takes a lot more hypothesizing of those data points from a culture long gone.

    1. I agree – the study design itself was not so flawed. It found limited evidence that consuming a certain amount of conventionally raised meat may slightly increase risk of death.
      What was flawed were the conclusions of the authors and the by-line in the mainstream press that “meat is bad”.
      This is patently incorrect, not just because the results are not at all generalizable to the population of people who eat grass-fed meat, but more importantly because there is also a signficant body of data indicating the opposite – the red meat consumption is beneficial or neutral as regards overall or cardiovascular mortality.
      In other words, this study is not even remotely conclusive, but is portrayed as such – the normal, both for anti-meat scientists and the hysterical/vapid mainstream press.

    2. It was definitely flawed for the same reasons that all “Nurses” studies are flawed.
      Nurses, unfortunately, are simply another cross-section of any group of typical Americans. They aren’t any healthier, more health-conscious, or a better example of typical humans.
      Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a hospital knows that nurses are stressed, many of them are smokers, they work long shifts under at times extremely high-pressure working conditions, and many of them have bad diets, if the examples I’ve seen, for weeks on end in hospitals is any indication. I believe it is. I wouldn’t eat ANYTHING from a hospital cafeteria, but many, many nurses do.
      Another study which fails in it’s ability to track anything more than the SAD diet and attempt to place the blame on animal protein.

  5. I read this and it seems that now the “Alliance for Natural Health” is yet one more ally to the meat industry – encouraging and promoting meat eating at any cost. Nevermind how destructive raising meat is to the environment, our water resources, the air we breath, our personal health, and…did I mention the animals themselves? I don’t care how “pure” your meat is – it’s just plain bad for you and the planet. Go Veg!!!

    1. Actually Tom – the meat industry fights hard to prevent the rise of the sustainable agricultural practices employed by the farmer who raises healthy, grassfed animals. Did you not read this newsletter? Doesn’t look like it. The meat industry and the USDA try to keep consumers uninformed about the fact that factory farmed meats and grass fed meats are actually 2 different foods, one toxic and inflammatory, one healthful and antiinflammatory. If more people knew this reality, they would support the small sustainable farmer, and the meat industry would lose money. If you are going to make an accusation – please due even a tiny bit of due diligence first. Really.

      1. “C” – I understand the point of the article to be making distinction between “factory” beef and “organic” beef. I will give you that organic is certainly healthier than factory. And my point is that all meat and beef does more bad than good for people and for the planet. I stand by my comment and am sorry that the meaning was lost on you.

      2. Actually some vegans are so as a matter of religion although the Bible says that in the last
        days men will be forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods and some cults forbid eating meat. Dr. Joseph Mercola of Chicago has one of the largest free health and nutrition email newsletters on earth and he has discovered that there are actually three basic types of people when
        it comes to diet. One type does best on meat and fat and protein and one type does best on mostly vegetables, fruits, fish and eggs, and the third type is a combination of the two and can pretty much eat anything. He also has accumulated evidence that a majority are affected by grains in an adverse way. Even within these basic three types there are many individual differences. I really enjoy some aged cheeses and of course I like good chocolate but if I eat them both on the same day I guarantee myself a 24 hour migraine. Otherwise I can pretty much eat anything. Even so I don’t eat pork or supermarket meats and I’m learning to use less and less processed foods with their GMO foods that are causing infertility in farm animals and there is even an 11% increase in human infertility since GMO have been introduced (may be higher by now). 93% of Soybeans (meal and oil and milk) 86% of Corn (meal, and oil and syrup and HFCS and starch) and 83% of cotton (cotton seed oil) and more are all GMO, and one scientist said recently that he would rather eat foods sprayed with DDT than Genetically Modified Plants. Of course we are all free to choose but unlike Europeans who are warned of the foods that contain GMO such is hidden from us. Very curious!

    2. my sentiments exactly with this article – having said that – our red meat eating is really a “phase” and un natural – post ww2 boom – and the golden age of the surging US middle class created an historically unique change in the western diet – meat for everyone! Grass fed – organic is the way to go – and like all things moderation and balance is the determining factor – this blip of beef eating will and must go the way of all fads – for many many reasons.

    3. Tom, you might want to read The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith. A copy of Primal Mind, Primal Body, by Nora Gedgaugas could broaden your horizons also.

    4. Tom – why can’t we separate the two issues?
      This is a health newsletter, NOT an environmental newsletter.
      The two issues are completely separate, and relate to one another in no way, shape, form, or fashion.
      If you can’t stick to a health-related discussion, maybe you should move on.

    5. @Tom-agriculture has been the most destructive practice humans ever invented.It destrioys the natural habitat of so many species.Read “the Vegetarian Myth” You may get educated.

  6. Though they evidently made an attempt to to seperate the processed meat eaters from the whole meat product eaters as well as take factors like smoking into consideration, as you rightly point out they still did not seperate the sources of the beef.
    My own take on red meat study flaws:
    “Red meat studies flaws lead to potentially unhealthy advice”
    I am still waiting to see a study which compares vegetarians who have good overall diets, are physically active and have healthy lifestyles in general with a similar group of meat eaters whose meat is free range organic type meat which has not been subject to feedlot practices and feedlot additives and not been raised on pastures laced with herbicides. I will eat my hat if such a study is ever honestly conducted and it does not show good results for the meat eaters. Of course, the best results of all would be from people who had the healthier overall diets, lifestyle and physical activity who incorporated plenty of vegetables and some fruit and modest meat consumption.

    1. Tony Issacs – Yes! we are all waiting for this, and when that study is done, what it will prove is that it was the processed foods, processed vegetable oils, and inflammatory grains that are slowly (and in some cases not so slowly) riddling us with inflammatory diseases at a rate never before seen in human history.
      I recently heard a comment that made the stupidity of the claims that meat is harmful crystal-clear for me –
      — If meat causes cancer, why don’t we see more cases of cancer in natural carnivores? In nature?–
      Mmmm Hmmm.

  7. Let’s be realistic. Even if the assertions above, that grass-fed animals do not have health disadvantages for humans in the same way as mass farming animals, such assertions need to have scientific studies to prove such assertions.
    In fact, because of the greater expenses of grass fed animals, compared with the more cruel methods of mass factory farming, it does not seem likely that more than a small minority of people will be prepared to pay the higher prices required.
    The proved benefits of plant based proteins on human health have been shown in many studies over 50 years and including up to 40,000 people. The Adventist studies compared Adventist meat eaters, who would have probably selected healthier meat sources, because of their beliefs, with Adventist vegetarians. The benefits that the vegetarians achieved over the meat eaters were well documented in all their studies. Lower incidence of many cancers were shown.
    Because of the Adventist lifestyle, ALL of them would have been healthier that the majority of the US population, based as their lifestyle is on whole natural foods to a great extent.
    My personal experience, not being an Adventist, of 60 years as a vegetarian, after my first 17 years on a mixed (doctor’s family) diet, is that my health is certainly better, at age 77, than my contemporaries and family. My family, none of whom are vegetarian, eat healthily by government standards. Their health problems have been many and painful. Squashed discs in the spine, replacement knees, serious bladder cancer and two heart attacks, are some of the major problems that they have had.
    Recently I have learnt of the deaths of a childhood friend of my age from cancer, and a recent death of a relative (cause not known) who was younger than me. Most people near my age seem to suffer from stiff and painful joints, which are clearly visible in their gait. So far I have no aches and pains, and take no regular medication, though was persuaded to take aspirin many years ago.

    1. Mike Maybury – I cannot believe the ignorance I hear when opinions like yours are aired.
      You may not know about macrobiotics, but it is a mostly vegan way of eating that has been around for a long time. Recently I learned that two of the most influential leaders of the macrobiotic movement in the U.S. have cancer. Aveline Kushi died from ovarian cancer, and her husband Michio Kushi is currently ill with colon cancer. These are life-long vegans. Unfortunately, it has become clearer and clearer that it simply isn’t the meat in the diet.
      Find a farmer that sells grass fed beef. They really are all over the place. You will be amazed at how affordable it is.
      Here in the pacific NW I can get half of a Scottish Highlands steer, cut and wrapped, for around three dollars a pound. It’s a little more like $3.50 if I only buy a quarter of the steer, still quite affordable. And that’s NOT JUST ground beef or chuck steaks. There are briskets, roasts, rib-steaks, etc. I choose which cuts I want. For some of those cuts, that is around half of what we would pay here in a typical grocery store for the same cuts from corporate feedlot beef.
      It’s a bigger initial investment, around $900. for my family for a year’s worth of beef, but the savings over that year is substantial.
      Yes, we make other sacrifices to be able to eat this way, but it’s all about priorities. Our health, now and in the long-term, is simply too important to worry about saving a couple bucks a week on sub-standard foods. For most families, buying the beef would be perfectly affordable if they would only STOP buying the processed foods and fast food most people seem to eat.
      I have heard too many times the comment “who can afford to eat that way? Grass-fed meats and organic vegetables?” These are many of the same people that I know drive new vehicles and fill them with premium fuel.
      What hypocrites. Our bodies are our most important vehicles – don’t they deserve premium fuels?

  8. My first reaction is that the results of the study are flawed. To merely associate beef eaters with higher mortality rates is alarmist to say the least and quite irresponsible. Beef does take longer to properly digest and since most people don’t even chew adequately it makes the digestive process take even longer. This results in the end product taking longer to…come out the other end. It’s also very important that people, how shall I say it, poop at least once, preferably twice a day. It’s also important that the poop float. We are not only what we eat and what the animal we eat eats but we are also what we poop! I also think that people are getting too political about cow’s emitting methane gas and taxing the environment. Really, the nonesense has to stop. Now, bring me a nice steak and make it rare! 🙂

  9. tiz so sad that here we have so many you must not eat meat people who fail to take into consideration people who have serious allergies to grains, legumes soy and salicylates……….. NO ONE OF US is a one size fits all model. I am, like my ancestors, an OMNIVORE.

  10. How does one know if you are eating grass fead beef or grain fed beef, and where can you get the first.

    1. Ien, go to the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website, http://www.westonaprice.org, and click on the sidebar link “Find Nutrient-Dense Foods”. It will tell you how to get in touch with a chapter leader near you who has a list of nearby vendors. In health stores, the packages will say “Grass-fed” or “Grass-finished”.

  11. I’m fortunate enough to be able to obtain top-quality grass-fed beef, raw milk, organic eggs and the finest raw honey I’ve ever tasted from a farm that makes weekly deliveries not far from my home. I’d never want to go back to eating the overprocessed junk food from my local supermarkets.

  12. It is ALL about educating and informing the masses. The government and the Liberal Media wants America to be *dumbed Down*, and it appears they’re doing this very well.

  13. Small things may make a big difference. Maybe the fish eaters were more likely to also eat broccoli. Maybe steak sauce or tarter sauce or cocktail sauce was a factor. Maybe one of them used more salt. Fish was probably cooked differently than meat. This seems especially hard to pick up from a questionaire every 4 years. When we have fish I eat less than I do meat. I eat more of something else then.

  14. Real Grass-fed beef like I raise eats only grass and the herbs that grow in the native grass fields. No fertilizer, no chemicals, no alfalfa, just native pasture. When the state meat inspector looks at the liver of my animals, it is without fllaws. The livers of most animals, ( those that are killed the same day as my animals) are condemned. The livers have spots or other problems. If the liver is not healthy, the animal is not healthy. This is the same for you.
    And I raise my animals on land that is not suitable for farming. Our land is managed as environmentally sustainable and I am treating it better than those that came before me. Our animals have a waiting line for their meat. Only satified customers sign up for more.
    In my family, the meat eaters live longer than the vegans, and processed food consumers. And we have the oral and written history to prove it.

  15. How does Mercola know that about the nutritional difference between different ways beef is raised? Where is his science? After reading his material extensively, I think he is a dangerous quack.
    For this reason I can no longer take The Alliance for Natural Health seriously.

    1. Please note that the above link is not an unbiased or independent third-party, but rather an interested group with an intent to “disprove” that natural healing is possible. One of their primary cited sources is the Quackbusters, a group formed with the sole purpose of taking down alternative medical practitioners: http://www.gaia-health.com/articles251/000277-quackbusters-are-busted.shtml
      They critcize Mercola for advocating a diet free or or minimal in grains, which is hardly a radical idea to most in the natural health community. The fact that they find the idea of avoiding foods our bodies have barely had a couple hundred years to evolve to eat, and whose nutrient and genetic profile has changed rapidly over the same period, to be such an absurd idea shows how biased the source is.

      1. You are correct Dr. Mercola’s vomment refers to the fact all animals reflect what they eat. Hench eggs from free range hens are higher in omega three fatty acids then those fed a corn only diet.

    2. Do your research. There are hundreds of pages proving grass fed beef is much better, some of them are even by the usda.

    3. To Sally Wein, Mercola probably got his information from the westonaprice.org website which has PHD’s doing their research. All of his information is true by the way. The Skeptic website is run by a bunch of anti vitamin supplement conglomerate of Doctors who would rather you take drugs for what ails you. And when that happens you don’t buy their drugs and they lose money. That’s why they put him on their so-called quack list. From the sound of it you are probably a vegetarian which is why you want to discredit Dr. Mercola. Vegetarians are the sickest and most unhealthy people on the planet. I know I was one for 27 years. I now follow the teachings of Dr. Weston A. Price and have never been healthier. The low fat propaganda has reached its end. It never worked before and is the cause of all the diseases and health issues that we now see. Vegans would never survive out in the wild without man made vitamins.

  16. Don’t forget the importance of measuring the health effects of how the meat was prepared. Grilled meat seems much more carcinogenic than meat cooked with indirect heat. It is probable that CAFO and BBQ are a double whammy.

  17. Dear Alliance for Natural Health,
    As you point out, the authors of this particular study recommend eating more chicken “meat” as part of a healthy diet. Yet, you then discuss your beliefs about the production methods and nutritional content of chicken “eggs.” Chickens raised for meat (broilers) are not raised in cages and they are not fed a diet of “slaughterhouse waste.” Over 80 percent of their diet consists of corn and soybean meal, with the rest made up of vitamins and minerals – no hormones or steroids are ever used in raising chickens.
    Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

    1. I understand you taking issue with the difference between meat birds and layers, but a diet of soybeans and corn is not appropriate for healthy chickens of any type. Chickens are omnivores and thrive on a varied diet of all types of plant parts, bugs, worms, insect eggs, etc.–most anything they can get to! Laying hens with access to a more varied diet reflect the benefits of such a diet in the higher omega-3 content to their eggs.

  18. Aso the study doesnt highlight the tendacies of red meat eaters. Research shows that meat eaters tend to drink more, smoke more and exercise less. I don’t know if the study was intended to be biased or not but it is important to remember correlation is not the same as cause.

  19. This article makes unsubstantiated claims that the detrimental health effects of red meat are due to the production methods and not anything intrinsic to beef.
    Vegetarians who would offer a similar unsubstantiated claim that ALL meat has detrimental health effects.
    Please review the science on iron that is available at the Life Extension Foundation.
    Most of us conserve iron and slowly accumulate a toxic level throughout life. Because too many multivitamin products include iron and because vitamin C enhances iron absorption, a toxic iron overload would suffice to explain the recent study showing that women who consumed multivitamins had greater incidence of cancer, degenarative disease and death.
    Even without actual Hemochromatosis, I used to have unusually high transferrin saturation levels (55% – normal is 25%-35%). I reduced it by donating blood and by eliminating beef.
    Would anyone care to argue that “organic grass fed” beef has less iron than factory-farm beef? I have seen higher iron levels as a health claim for organic beef.
    Please people, do some research before typing. Not every health article is going to support your personal dietary choice.

  20. There is just too much information available proving grass-fed beef is much better for you. There is no question about it.

    1. These recent studies attacking red meat definitely sound flawed to me. So many people have bought the low fat chant ..and low red meat idea that they’ve become morbidly obese and diabetic ..all from buying into that insane US food pyramid……..and we put up with genetically modified food being unlabeled….and just anything Monsanto wants, Monsanto gets…Monsanto is causing disease and suffering the world over. Once they get their murderous hands on livestock we’re sunk. You can’t believe science any more….they aren’t funded unless they will come to conclusions that are best for corporations…mainly the US Monsanto Government.

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