October 29, 2015

WHO and IARC Declare that Processed and Red Meats are "Probably Carcinogenic"

From The Washington Post:
"A research division of the World Health Organization [(WHO)] announced Monday that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer and that red meat probably does, too.
"In reaching its conclusion, the panel sought to quantify the risks, and compared to carcinogens such as cigarettes, the magnitude of the danger appears small, experts said. The WHO panel cited studies suggesting that an additional 3.5 ounces of red meat everyday raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent; eating an additional 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily raises the risk by 18 percent, according to the research cited. 
"'For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,' says Kurt Straif, an official with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer [(IARC)], which produced the report. 'In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.'"
This report comes as no surprise because I've been hearing the same things repeatedly from other people who have made the choice to pursue a meat-free diet. This, of course, is going to add fuel to the fire and make all anti-meat vegans very happy indeed.

Also no surprise is the controversy surrounding this announcement. Just reading the link above in its fullest gives you that obvious impression. But it's not the statements that pretty well everything we do, use and eat is cancer-causing, from simply breathing to pumping gasoline into our vehicles causes cancer that was the most compelling. Rather it was how the IARC reached their conclusions that raised my eyebrows.

In a nutshell, the IARC pretty much didn't come to full agreement on whether red meat was truly carcinogenic, because the panel of 22 experts weren't in full agreement and because they really didn't have sufficient evidence that red meat was indeed cancer-causing, hence the word "probably." They were also being pretty picky about which articles to choose to support their assessment. With regards to the articles themselves, the whole cancer-causing hoopla came down to mostly just colorectal cancer, and a lot of the articles came from findings with a healthy-user bias (or unhealthy, take your pick). And, the source of the meat itself is/was unknown, making the whole nutritional research a bit sketchy if there's nothing that says if the meat people ate came from conventional-raised animals or those that were "grass-fed" or pasture-raised.

I also highly recommend reading these articles in full which do the explaining a lot better than I can:

Zoe Harcombe: World Health Organisation, meat & cancer

Science Does Not Support International Agency Opinion on Red Meat and Cancer

And finally, Nicollette Hahn Niman, author of Defending Beef, had this to say about WHO's findings, which sums up pretty well what I think about the whole thing:
Red meat and cancer? There's not much new here, except that WHO has added processed meat to their list of foods/substances that may be carcinogenic. The rest is pretty much what I wrote in Defending Beef: there is some evidence that PROCESSED MEATS (IN EXCESS) increase a person's cancer risk, but there is extremely little evidence that UNPROCESSED MEATS do, and there is a lot of evidence that it's healthy food and FAR, FAR preferable to what most Americans are eating as food most of the time. From the article: “It might be a good idea not to be an excessive consumer of meat,” said Jonathan Schoenfeld, the co-author of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article and an assistant professor in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School. “But the effects of eating meat may be minimal, if anything.” Moreover, I would add this: NONE of this research takes into consideration the CRITICAL question of how these animals used for this meat WERE RAISED -- Were they grassfed? Were they raised with hormones? Were they given beta-agonists? There are so many POTENTIAL health implications of these substances / husbandry differences that it's scandalous they are NOT consider in such evaluations. BOTTOM LINE: EAT REAL FOOD and don't worry about the daily health scares, which waffle from vilification of one food to cannonization of another -- then change again the next week.
So show meat some love! Enjoy your bacon, sausages, steaks and franks, because life is short and isn't worth living if we can't enjoy the things we love, including good food.
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