Harrington's Sort & Cull

Researchers Create Headlines Tying Processed and Red Meat to Cancer

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Headlines came out early Monday. "Processed Meat Causes Cancer; Red Meat Probably Does, Too."

"Hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats cause cancer, World Health Organization declares."

I was watching the discussion at a hotel breakfast room while eating a couple of fairly bland sausage patties.

The report comes from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC) an arm of the World Health Organization. This is the same group that labeled glyphosate as carcinogenic earlier this year.

The researchers came out with a paper classifying processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans" due to evidence involving colorectal cancer and an association with stomach cancer.

The researchers then stated that consumption of red meat -- beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, or goat meat -- as "probably carcinogenic to humans" with a probable association to colorectal cancer and a possible association to pancreatic and prostate cancer.

The increased risk from eating red and processed meats is small and the details of that get a little blurred in the researchers' report.

The analysis stated that high red meat consumption, the analysis focused on studies looking at daily consumption of red meat at 300 grams to 420 grams -- 10.6 ounces to 14.8 ounces, daily. Thus, effectively, it comes back to just how much red meat do you eat every day.

The analysis also drew its conclusion on processed meats -- hamburgers, hotdogs, sausage, bacon and the like -- with "few human data" actually available to provide a full picture. Nonetheless, researchers felt confident there was enough other data to go with their findings.

In a quote from the report, "On the basis of the large amount of data and the consistent associations of colorectal cancer with consumption of processed meat across studies in different populations, which make chance, bias, and confounding unlikely as explanations, a majority of the Working Group concluded that there is sufficient evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of processed meat. Chance, bias, and confounding could not be ruled out with the same degree of confidence for the data on red meat consumption, since no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies and residual confounding from other diet and lifestyle risk is difficult to exclude. The Working Group concluded that there is limited evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat."

The U.S. meat industry has been anticipating the results and had several observers actually at the meetings in France where the scientific working group met earlier this month.

"You know, my mother used to say, 'Everything in moderation,'" said National Pork Producers Council President Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from Camden, S.C. "She was a very smart woman, and the smart people out there know you don't eat a pound of anything every day. So take this IARC report with a grain of salt, but not too much salt because that would be bad for you."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association came out with a stronger statement rejecting the committee's findings. "Cancer is a complex disease that even the best and brightest minds don't fully understand," says Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD and executive director of human nutrition research for NCBA. "Billions of dollars have been spent on studies all over the world and no single food has ever been proven to cause or cure cancer. The opinion by the IARC committee to list red meat as a probable carcinogen does not change that fact. The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer."

The issue does come back to the debate around the U.S. Dietary Guidelines that are still being formed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services. The advisory committee involved in those guidelines late last year declared people should eat less red and processed meats.

You can bet there will be a push by opponents of meat to use this study as the basis to demand some action by the federal government, despite the low risk involved.

And I better not ever hear that the IARC is doing a study on coffee.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.



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Gerald Kurtz
11/14/2015 | 5:53 AM CST
In the feedlot we call it BS. It is the same old corporate political games. Being an election year, corporations need to ante up the coffers of the political candidates, and the best way to do that is to beat down the price offered to producers, but have you seen the price of bread and milk and cereals decrease at the retail point of sale. With corporate new found margins, it is very easy to make these political contributions. With the meat cancer research, I will ask one question, who funded the meat research? In my life I have seen eggs and dairy fat go from good to bad and back to being good foods. Is this the new fad of food research? I will take it wirh a grain of salt. Oops, I need to check my blood pressure!
10/28/2015 | 7:51 PM CDT
The EPA has declared many things cause cancer and they have been outlawed or their use drastically reduced. Just think of how the rate of cancer being found in people changed when freon was outlawed. It has always gone up and up. The number of things outlawed has not changed the cancer rates at all in people. The game goes like this. When your patent runs out have the EPA outlaw it so everyone can buy your new product.
Jerome Burkel
10/28/2015 | 7:22 AM CDT
Most people that do eat red meat consume about at best 8oz of meat per day and that wood be a high number. My guess wood be that these claims are just what they say claims. the fact of the matter is prob more likely to die in a accident than from eating red meat. Sounds like a Political push to drive cattle market further south.