A day after the World Health Organization issued a report fromthe International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) linking processed red meats to cancer, meat industry organizations from around the world continue to criticize the ruling.

Red and processed meats were among 940 agents reviewed by an IARC Monograph panel and found to pose some level of theoretical hazard. Only one of those agents has shown not to contain a cancer hazard and that is a substance found in yoga pants. In contrast, sunlight, breathing air, alcohol, wood dust, and working night shift, have all been found by IARC to pose a cancer risk.

“The report disregards countless scientific studies that show no connection between meat and cancer,” said Chris Young, AAMP’s outreach specialist. “IARC did not consider meat’s nutrition benefits in assigning its classification and did not consider the negative implications of discouraging consumers from making meat part of their healthy, balanced diet.”

Many recent, peer reviewed and public studies have found no relationship between red and processed meat and a variety of cancers. The IARC Monograph did not consider the entirety of the scientific evidence regarding red and processed meats.

“If we rely simply on IARC’s list of cancer ‘hazards’, it would be clear that just living on earth would be a cancer hazard,” said Young. “Consumers should interpret this sensibly. It’s IARC’s job to find cancer hazards, however, the scientific evidence shows red and processed meat can be part of a healthy diet.”

The British group, the Meat Advisory Panel, offered analysis on the findings from several experts.

Dr. Ian Johnson, Emeritus Fellow of the Institute of Food Research, “Although there is epidemiological evidence for a statistically significant association between processed meat consumption and bowel cancer, it is important to emphasize that the size of the effect is relatively small, and the mechanism is poorly defined. It is certainly very inappropriate to suggest that any adverse effect of bacon and sausages on the risk of bowel cancer is comparable to the dangers of tobacco smoke, which is loaded with known chemical carcinogens and increases the risk of lung cancer in cigarette smokers by around 20 fold.”

Professor Richard Knox, formerly of the Institute of Cancer Research, said, “most cancer deaths will not be due to bowel cancer and even fewer linked to meat consumption.” 

Dr. Elizabeth Lund, an independent consultant in nutritional and gastrointestinal health and former researcher, said, “This is not a surprising outcome but needs to be put in perspective. Very few people in Europe eat sufficient meat to fall into the high meat consumption category. It will be interesting to see what the report says about how much is safe. Meat is such a good source of iron and zinc and many women are short of these key micronutrients. Half of teenage girls have insufficient iron intake.”

Meat & Livestock Australia issued a statement that said, “There is no reason to believe that eating beef and lamb as part of a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle in 100 to 200g portion sizes (raw weight), 3 to 4 times a week as recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, will increase risk of cancer.

“When it comes to prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, the evidence suggests a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle is critical - focusing on only one kind of food is not enough. Education around these issues is vital and we consult extensively with experts to ensure our nutrition communications are evidence-based and relevant to everyday Australians.”

Source: AAMP, Meat Advisory Panel, Meat & Livestock Australia