Research isn’t cheap, and someone has to pay for it. But when the money comes from the industry that produces and sells a food that’s the subject of the research, there’s a potentially serious problem.
Case in point: we know that eggs are high in cholesterol. (There’s as much in two eggs as in half a kilo of steak) and the egg industry has, for some time, been funding studies in an attempt to muddle the issue.
Now, the findings of a new University of Sydney study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on the cardiovascular implications of eating chicken eggs have been trumpeted in the media as meaning there’s ‘no risk’ in consuming them. In the study, people eating two eggs per week ended up with comparable cholesterol levels to those eating two eggs per day. Going beyond the headline, however, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reveals that the study was funded by Australian Eggs Limited and that the ‘low egg’ group was asked to make up for eating fewer eggs by eating more meat. So the study was actually comparing those who ate more eggs with those who ate more meat. No wonder there were no big differences – they were all eating heaps of cholesterol!
A New York University nutrition professor found that 168 US studies were funded by food and beverage companies and trade groups in 2015 alone and that, of those, 156 showed results that favoured the sponsor’s interests. Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) boasts that it ‘invests in… the CSIRO, leading Australian universities and international research centres’ to the tune of over $90 million a year. MLA funds are matched dollar for dollar by the federal government – in other words, by your tax money. The chicken-meat industry spends over $1 million a year on research that includes ‘[m]arket research and intelligence gathering to inform industry decision making’ – also matched by the Australian government.
So where can you get unbiased advice about the health consequences of your food choices? First, do your own research – and check and double-check both the studies themselves and who’s bankrolling them. Look for studies that have no potential or perceived conflicts of interest. Talk to your health professional and to independent nutritional experts.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the United States’ largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals, states that vegetarians and vegans enjoy a lower risk of death from ischaemic heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, and lower body mass indexes, as well as lower overall cancer rates. Well-planned vegan eating provides us with all the nutrients that we need – minus much of the saturated fat, all the cholesterol, and many of the contaminants found in animal flesh, eggs, and dairy ‘products'”. Vegetarians and vegans live, on average, six to ten years longer than meat-eaters.
A worldwide switch to vegan eating would also reduce carbon emissions dramatically and spare billions of animals lives of terror and agonising deaths every year. And there’s another health benefit: with cruelty-free, plant-based food on your plate, you’ll sleep better at night.
Desmond Bellamy is the special projects coordinator for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Australia. He is currently doing his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D) at Melbourne University on the subject of cannibalism as a cultural manifestation and its challenges to anthropocentrism.