Cutting through the baloney

Monday seemed to be a bad day for bacon eaters or at least that is what most media outlets and anti-meat campaigns want you to believe based on the announcement from the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, International Agency for Research on Cancer, that meat causes cancer.

Frankly, if you are creative anything can cause cancer. As the North American Meat Institute reminds everyone, “scientific evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to good health.” 

At a meeting in France, a 22-member panel from 10 countries categorized red meat as group 2A- probably carcinogenic to humans while processed meat was a group 1- carcinogenic to humans. Red and processed meats were among 940 agents evaluated by the IARC during a seven-day meeting. Upon the conclusion of deliberation and final vote, 939 agents were determined to pose some level of theoretical ‘‘hazard’’ to humans. The same panel also determined that air you breathe and sun-filled windows belong in the same classification as bacon. In addition, wine, coffee or working the night shift is as risky as eating red meat, category 2.

Putting the decision into perspective

The international 22-member panel reached the classification for red and processed meat by majority vote since a consensus could not be reached. The task of the panel was to determine if the agent poses some level of risk. The common sense approach weighing benefits and risks was not used. The approximately 800 epidemiological studies reviewed by the panel did not include the numerous studies that show no correlation between meat and cancer, accounts observers of the IARC meeting. The National Pork Producers Council explains that the IARC’s conclusions were based on “relatively weak statistical associations from epidemiological studies that were not designed to show cause and effect.”

Pork, like other red meats, offers many nutritional benefits including protein and provide several important vitamins and minerals. Research repeatedly confirms that one single food item cannot cause cancer. There is no one simple answer. Genetics, obesity and inactivity are all cancer risks. The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute states obesity and physical inactivity may account for 25 to 30% of several major cancers. Lean pork has been recommended by health professionals as an excellent source of protein and other valuable vitamins and mineral in low-calorie package. 

Furthermore, many of the studies reviewed associated cancer risks with high levels of meat consumption. According to the IARC, the data from 10 studies estimated that every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18% whereas a 100-gram portion of red meat eaten daily increased the risk by 17%. The USDA’s What We Eat in America survey shows the average intake of processed (cured) meat is 27.8 grams per day and the average intake of fresh red meat in the United States is 44.2 grams per day. 

It is clear the IARC decision was centered on one factor – theoretical hazards - and not the whole “health” picture. In my opinion, the research reviewed was subjectively chosen and leads me to believe the classification determination was political perhaps based on a hidden agenda to hinder a growing global meat market.

Let’s be honest, if you use the panel classifications, it's just as risky to breathe and enjoy the warmth of the sunbeam through a window on cold day as it is to eat meat. As a consumer, it is important to use scientific evidence and do your own research in making healthy decisions for you and your family. As the old adage goes “everything in moderation”. 

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