World Health Organization Finds Link Between Processed Meat and Cancer and Probable Link Between Red Meat and Cancer

courtesty of REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

A panel of 22 scientists from the WHO analyzed over 800 studies conducted over the last decade and found processed meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham to be carcinogenic, and red meat to be “probably carcinogenic”.

It’s likely not too surprising to many that consumption of processed meat has been linked to cancer, but this annoucement by the WHO puts a weight behind the sentiment that has never existed.  Henceforth, the WHO will consider processed meat as an IARC Group 1 carcinogen, which places it alongside mustard gas, asbestos, Gamma radiation, cigarettes and a host of others.  However, it is worth noting that its place in Group 1 does not imply a particular level of carcinogenicity, it simply means that these elements are cancer causing agents in general.

What the announcement essentially states is that the more processed meat a human being consumes, the higher his/her risk for cancer becomes.  It does not state that moderate meat consumption greatly increases one’s risk of cancer.  It’s a positive correlation.  Dr.Kurt Straif, a member of the IARC (WHO) elaborated in a statement saying,

For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.

The findings for red meat were less conclusive, but still led the IARC to classify it within Group 2A.  Analysis led researchers to believe it is “probable” that red meat is carcinogenic, but there was not enough evidence to support a definitive claim.

The announcement was predictably met with scorn and derision from the US meat industry who claimed that studies of this nature have too many potential external confounds to be accurate, and that the IARC’s analyses were of outdated data that did not reflect the current scientific opinion.  The North American Meat Institute (NAMI)  immediately went on the offensive as their Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Dr.Betsy Booren Ph.D stated,

 IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (Class I carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (Class I), apply aloe vera (Class 2B) if you get a sunburn, drink wine or coffee (Class I and Class 2B), or eat grilled food (Class 2A).And if you are a hairdresser or do shiftwork (both Class 2A), you should seek a new career.

Dr.Booren is attempting to tap into the public’s general distrust of the claims of large agencies.  She’s implying that either you can listen to the IARC and never leave your home, or you can just live your life.  It’s a clever, though predictable approach, and it will work to a degree.  But regardless of the various defensive measures the meat industry unfurls, the information is out there, circulating.  It’s highly unlikely that this news will have an immediate, drastic effect on overall meat consumption, but the multi-billion dollar US meat industry and the public have taken notice.

by Jesse Mechanic


Jesse Mechanic is the Editor-in-chief of The Overgrown.

Twitter-logo-6-12 @jmechanic

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