Death by Committee

The World Health Organization (WHO) takes up a political cudgel with which to kill people.4713747928_cb494a54a3_z

Recently the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of WHO, met and “assessed more than 800 epidemiological studies that investigated the association of cancer with consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries, from several continents, with diverse ethnicities and diets.” That sounds good; even science like. By the way “red meat” was understood to be “beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, or goat meat.” And…”processed meats contain pork or beef, but might also contain other red meats, poultry, offal (eg, liver), or meat byproducts such as blood.”

Further they examined the “mechanistic evidence” for all of the bad things they associate with meat consumption. By ‘mechanistic evidence’ they are referring to a putative biochemical and physiological chain that meat and processed meat triggers that they claim is associated with cancer in the human gastrointestinal tract.

The WHO, through the IARC, has determined that processed meat is clearly carcinogenic, causes cancer, and that meat probably does so as well.

Well there are two very specific problems with the determination. Note, for example, that they examined ‘800’ papers. Why that number when there are actually thousands of papers on the same topic? They offer a conventional string of statistical babble about why those particular studies, but researcher and observational bias is always at work in the list one chooses. They offer a plausible ‘mechanism’ for why meat ‘causes’ cancer but leave unanswered why this deadly string doesn’t always achieve its seemingly inevitable result (The biome did it!); not everyone who eats lots of meat gets gastrointestinal cancer. Ah, you might say, not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer and surely you don’t advise that anyone smoke? True. One important difference is smoking is not essential to life and food most certainly is.

Which brings us to the second problem with the IARC determination: people who don’t eat meat must eat something. And here is where we bump into the reason for the title of this editorial: “Death by Committee.”

A very brief history of the effects of institutional medicine acting in high political dudgeon will help explain our outrage at the presumption of the WHO. The United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Senator McGovern and often referred to as ‘The McGovern Committee,” in 1977 issued ostensibly definitive scientific judgment about the dangers of dietary saturated fats and cholesterol. That conditional scientific judgment, which proved to be wrong, given the political power of the state enforced with the power of the purse – research spending and advocacy – prestige – I’m from the government and I’m here to help you – has resulted in an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, premature cardiovascular death and disease. The politics of science thus has sickened, maimed and killed millions of people.

We now have another prestigious organization asserting, actually unconditionally asserting, that meat and processed meat ‘kills.’ If you read the paper, even the qualifier around the meat claim is not really much of one; they just make a show of humility on that claim whereas the one about processed meat is completely unblushing.

The McGovern Committee set off a rash of meat and fat avoidance that drove people to eating anything but fat and meat. What was left was starch; or at least that was how it was sold. And if not ‘sold’ at least that is how it was purchased by American consumers. Potato chips anyone?

Now we are told something even scarier – cancer is scarier than heart disease to most of us – that meat and processed meat cause cancer. That message will be taken up and consumed just as the McGovern Committee’s was; more starch please.

As I said, two very specific problems:

  1. Biased science
  1. Politics: conditional science- all science is conditional – given the immutable imprimatur of politics with its inevitable long train of abuse of truth

There is a third problem. Poorly informed environmental activists!

And here is where the WHO’s pronouncement sets the political kettle to full boil; sustainability and the treatment of animals will quickly kill any reasoned discussion of a sound diet. Meat’s role in the human diet and the emergence of our genetics as honed by genetic history – we are meat eaters – is hard to deny; some try to. However, the more vague claims of ‘sustainability’ are not so easily dismissed. I believe the most common version of the sustainability story is wrong. It is a widely promoted, demonstrably wrong idea that a ‘plant-based diet’ is less harmful to the environment. In fact, properly executed ranching and farming are not only ‘sustainable’ but also good for the land and good for humans.

But, be sure, the soundness or truth of that claim will never make it to the light of reason; it will be swamped with Vegan bullying trussed up with the political cudgel provided by the WHO.

“How can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat yer meat?” is a much wiser pronouncement not by the WHO but by Pink Floyd.

  3 comments for “Death by Committee

  1. Jim
    October 28, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Love the Pink Floyd reference!

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