Processed Meat Causes Cancer
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November 2nd, 2015

Processed Meat Causes Cancer

Processed meat causes cancer, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization. The Media reported it, and then others in the Media debunked it, or some aspect of it… Apparently the WHO’s press release confused everyone from scientists, to reporters writing about science. Which is probably why we’ve seen articles about the whole thing being confusing that are just as confusing as the confusion they’re trying to report (confused?). Tell me how many times you have to read this to make any sense of this word salad:

While IARC doesn’t provided guidelines on risk, it does mention that a 2011 meta-analysis study found a 17 per cent increased risk of bowel cancer from eating 100 g of red meat per day and an 18 per cent increase from consuming 50 grams of processed meat per day.

Although that isn’t their estimate, Straif told CBC News that the IARC Working Group views that meta-analysis as “the best estimate of risk.”

However, an IARC press release incorrectly attributes the risk estimate. It says it was the IARC experts who “concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.”

And then risk became a big part of the news reporting, and the confusion, even though IARC’s work isn’t about risk. A phrase search on Google for that quote from the press release comes back with over 5,000 results. (IARC’s principles would allow them to “undertake to estimate dose–response relationships.”)

The American Cancer Society and Cancer Research U.K., also cite that 2011 meta-analysis, so the issue is old news made new again by journalists reading that IARC press release. For the record, this is from the ACS in 2012: “Current evidence supports approximately a 15 per cent to 20 per cent increased risk of cancers of the colon and/or rectum per 100 g of red meat or 50 g of processed meat consumed per day.”

It’s too early in the morning. I give up. I don’t know what any of that means. All I know is, I was going to have Korean BBQ tonight, but now all I want to do is go fishing.

  • Peter Martinez

    Colbert had a recent strip where he lay on a blanket (roof) w/a girl guest (Susan) and did a Candorville musing. Did they pay you?

    • He did? Really? Is there a link to it somewhere?

  • bcmayes

    Oh and we don't *have* to cook meat. If we, like the animals, were to get all of our meat as a result of fresh kills, it would be as safe as it is for the lions and alligators and other meat-eaters.

    We *choose* to cook meat, in part because the chemical reaction of flame and smoke with the collagen and muscle tissue of meat makes it taste better, and in part because for the most part we don't get our meat from fresh kills anymore.

    Cooking is a choice, not a requirement (for vegetables, too).

  • bcmayes

    It actually makes quite a bit of sense, and really shouldn't be new to any of us. The processed meats in category 1 are almost all cured, and curing involves lots of salt, nitrates, and/or sugar — well beyond what occurs naturally — none of which are all that great in large quantities.

    Also a lot of our cured meat involves smoking. I'm trying to find some readily available scientific studies on this, but smoking meat seems to be effectively imbuing the meat with the properties of smoke, which is a category 1 carcinogen itself. It would seem logical that permeating meat (or fish for that matter) with a carcinogen would result in a carcinogen.

    Finally, do remember that being out in the sun is also a category 1 carcinogen per IARC. Just saying… 🙂