The World Health Organization released a study last week in which they determined that all processed meats are carcinogenic, and red meats are “probably” so. This comes from an analysis of decades of research done by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the WHO.
The World Health Organization defines “processed meat” as meat that has been altered in some way to either prolong its shelf life or change its flavor, this includes, but is not limited to, bacon, sausages, salami, beef jerky, ham and hot dogs. Red meats, according to WHO, are “all mammalian muscle meat,” such as pork, beef and lamb.
The IARC suggests that the more processed meat consumed, the greater the risk. According to an analysis of ten studies, a 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten every day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by almost 18 percent.
The risks of red meat were more difficult to pin down because the evidence linking red meat to cancer was not as strong. WHO stated that the IARC had not yet proven that red meat has a causal relationship with cancer. However, if such a relationship were to be proven, then the risk for cancer would raise 17 percent for every 100-gram portion of red meat eaten on a daily basis.
When asked about the recent reports, TU students had varying reactions.
“[The study] made me consider being a vegetarian even more,” said TU student Autumn McBride. “But I don’t like red meat anyway, it’s awful for you.”
TU students Kyra Manlove and Rachel Weems share a different view.
“Life itself is a carcinogen,” said Manlove. “Therefore, we shouldn’t worry about whether meat causes cancer or not. Anything can give you cancer, so who cares?”
Weems agrees, stating that “if you’re going to live your life being afraid of everything that can give you cancer, then life isn’t worth living.”
The meat industry also stands in firm opposition of this research. North American Meat Institute Vice President of Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren, Ph.D., stated that “it was clear sitting in the IARC meeting that many of the panelists were aiming for a specific results despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data.”
Booren believes that in addition to the IARC seeking to prove that red and processed meats are carcinogenic, they have very found few substances that do not cause cancer.
“Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard.’” Said Booren. “Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer.”
Booren believes that if people were to live life by the IARC’s research, they would be limited to only a few activities.
“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), 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.”
In light of this research, the World Health Organization does not suggest that people stop eating red and processed meats altogether.
In their Question and Answer page regarding the issue, WHO states that “eating meat has known health benefits.”
However, they go on to advise people to “limit intake of processed meat and red meat, which are linked to increased risks of death from heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.”