Unintended Consequences

It is widely accepted that we, the American people, have the best healthcare system in the world. One of the most important functions of this system is its research activities.

Research has led to many marvelous cures, remedies, and studies, which in turn receive much coverage by the media. Some of these studies, upon further review were found to have been misunderstood and thus, were reversed. That has caused adverse problems for the foodservice industry. Such a study could and probably already has had an impact on those of the general public who have read it. This particular headline reads as follows: “WHO says to cut down on meat”—WHO being the World Health Organization.

As proof of how these studies are misunderstood and confusing, I offer the comments of John Swartzberg, MD, chair of the Editorial Board of the University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter: “When I saw the headlines in October that meat was linked to cancer, I braced myself for the inevitable brouhaha. The news was that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded that processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and ham almost certainly increase the risk of colorectal cancer—by 18 percent per daily serving—and that red meat probably does as well.”

He went on in great detail to distinguish that the IARC clearly explained this classification merely indicates the strength of the evidence that something causes cancer, not the degree of risk. In fact it said that the increased risk from red or processed meat is “small” for individuals, though potentially important for public health since many people eat meat.

This reminds me of a similar report, which stated as follows: “The study could not conclude that red meat consumption caused an early death, but rather there was an association between the two.” That’s like saying that riding in an automobile will not cause an early death, but because of potential accidents there is an association between those two. I don’t believe we are going to stop riding in automobiles.

Milea February 2019 728×90

I doubt the purpose of announcing the results of the study was to scare the public, but rather to inform them. However, when the words mortality, death, or cancer are used in describing a study which relates to human consumption and is the focal center of the study, it does confuse not only the public’s psyche, but its opinion of the product or products mentioned in the study.

As I have said on previous occasions, as far back as 1960 when the medical term cholesterol first became part of our daily lexicon, eggs were the product identified as the cause of raising it and thus should be consumed sparingly. The negative impact on the egg industry was so dramatic that it gave birth to a new dairy product called Egg Beaters.

Fast-forward to 2012 and eggs, in moderation, were back in vogue. In fact, Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University Prevention Research Center, commenting on a Harvard study, said: “Cutting back on meat can make room for healthier sources such as eggs—the quintessential protein source.”

Prior to the 1970s, wine was considered a no-no for those who were not enjoying good health. Thanks to a study in Sweden, the conclusion reached was that wine—and red wine in particular, drunk in moderation (a two- to four-ounce drink once a day) was good for the heart and vascular system in general. More recently, coffee was given a clean bill of health, after many years of conflicting studies and confusion which adversely affected sales.

How the public will react to this recent study remains to be seen, but I do know this: Despite previous studies suggesting that beef, and steaks in particular, could be detrimental to your health, beef continues to be America’s favorite meat. How this study will impact sales, only time will tell.

It is unfortunate that all of the above products—eggs, wine, and coffee, to mention a few—were put in an unfavorable light, lost millions in sales, and then upon further study were considered to be safe. Not only were the errors costly for those industries, but they confused consumers.

This situation is not going away. We can only hope that when these reports are written, they are presented with greater clarity. Remember: For the most part, they are written for the medical community, not the average consumer on whom our business depends.


Fred G. Sampson
Fred G. Sampson is the retired President Emeritus of the New York State Restaurant Association. He began working with NYSRA in 1961. Within the next four years the NYSRA more than tripled its membership and expanded from one regional chapter to eight. Sampson played roles in representing restaurants on issues including paid sick leave, minimum wage, liquor laws, a state-wide alcohol training program and insurance plans. Comments may be sent to fredgsampson@juno.com