British media went wild last week reporting that eating lots of meat might increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (search).
Though the reports seem confined to U.K. newspapers, it makes sense to take a closer look at the study before it becomes a global scare.
The researchers compared the dietary habits of 88 patients with newly diagnosed arthritis to the dietary habits of 176 controls without arthritis. The arthritis patients were about twice as likely as the study controls to have consumed more than three ounces of meat per day, on average, and about three times as likely to have consumed more than 75 grams of protein per day, on average.
There are several reasons for not taking these results too seriously.
First, the data were not collected for the purpose of determining the causes of the diagnosed arthritis among study subjects. The data is from a cancer study involving 25,630 people — so these results very likely could be a statistical artifact or oddity that the researchers published just to get some attention.
From a statistical perspective, the reported results are weak correlations that conflict with other results (unpublicized!) from the same study — for example, arthritis patients were not more likely than controls to have eaten red meat. If the researchers’ claims were true, then why would total meat intake, but not red meat intake alone, be associated with increased risk of arthritis?
This brings us to the last point — that the researchers really have no idea of how meat intake could increase the risk of arthritis, acknowledging, “There is no evidence as to what [about meat] might be important in relation to arthritis."
Activists Have Premature ‘Mad Cow’
While the meat-arthritis study was certainly not ready for primetime, the anti-business activist group Public Citizen really got ahead of things amid last month’s mini-mad cow crisis.
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Nov. 23, at about 6 p.m. EDT, that the test of the cow-of-concern was negative for mad cow, the agency had already been pre-empted by Public Citizen, which had issued a media release on Nov. 23, at 9:37 a.m., on Progressive Newswire.
Public Citizen’s release said, however, that the USDA had “confirmed its second case of… mad cow” and that the confirmation “reinforces the need for federal regulators to close the loopholes that remain in our BSE prevention policies.”
Not only was Public Citizen wrong, but they were wrong about eight hours ahead of the USDA's announcement of the correct result.
Don't bother going to Progressive Newswire to look for Public Citizen’s release — the web site apparently was scrubbed long ago. But the media release does yet live on the web — this copy was posted on the Internet more than five hours ahead of the USDA's announcement.
Not only did Public Citizen jump the gun, but I think they were standing in front of the gun when it went off.
Last Friday was the 20th anniversary of the industrial accident at Bhopal, India, where an explosion at the Union Carbide (search) plant released a chemical cloud that killed 3,800 people and seriously injured many others.
Union Carbide settled accident claims with the Indian government’s approval for $470 million in 1989 — 10 years before the company was bought by Dow Chemical.
This week, however, Boston Common Asset Management filed a shareholder resolution with Dow to address ongoing liabilities allegedly associated with the Bhopal accident.
Boston Capital said in a Dec. 3 media release that, “Today, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness.”
But it’s not really clear to what extent accident survivors continue to experience health effects 20 years later. In particular, no study has reported an increase in cancer rates. Neuromuscular symptoms in Bhopal survivors consist mainly of tingling, numbness, muscle aches, according to a comprehensive follow-up study of Bhopal survivors published in 2002. There don't appear to be any significant new health effects among survivors that wouldn’t already be covered by the 1989 settlement.
But what’s all this got to do with Dow anyway? It didn’t buy Union Carbide until 15 years after the accident.
Boston Common Asset Management is one of those self-proclaimed “socially responsible investment” firms that seek to impose their left-wing social and political agendas on society through wobbly-kneed corporate managements that can’t withstand bad PR.
As pointed out in a 2004 book entitled, Biz-War and the Out-of-Power Elite: The Progressive Left Attack on the Corporation” by George Washington University professor Jarol Manheim, the political left has been losing power in government since the early 1980s and has since resorted to regaining its power by pressuring corporations into being “socially responsible” (read appeasing left-wing investors and activist groups with financial pay-offs and corporate policy concessions).
Dow’s shareholders will need to be vigilant that their management doesn’t try to appease Boston Common and its allies to the company’s long-term detriment.
Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of "Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams" (Cato Institute, 2001).