WHO Report Links Red Meat to Cancer

09:28AM Nov 07, 2015
BT Meat Grocery
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But industry says findings’ long-term effects likely limited

Livestock producer groups shifted into full damage control in late October after the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report linking cancer to the consumption of red meat and processed red meat. Based on what livestock experts assert was limited evidence, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), WHO’s cancer agency, concluded red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans.

A strong condemnation, for sure, but nutrition experts representing livestock producers question the agency’s conclusion. That’s because IARC was unable to reach a consensus among the 22 cancer research experts who considered the question. For this report, they settled for a “majority” agreement. 

The meat industries criticized the IARC report for not being supported by science. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said the vote by IARC classifying red and processed meat as cancer “hazards” defies common sense and studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer.

“It was clear sitting in the IARC meeting that many of the panelists were aiming for a specific result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data,” Betsy Booren, NAMI vice president of scientific affairs, told the meat-industry website Meatingplace.com. “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.”

Shalene McNeill, a registered dietitian and executive director of Human Nutrition Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, also disagrees with the report. 

“Cancer is a complex disease that even the best and brightest minds don’t fully understand,” she said. “The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”

Cattle futures traded sharply lower following the release of IARC’s report, but Steve Meyer, Express Markets Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind., can’t imagine it will have long-term effects on the markets. 

The IARC findings shouldn’t have been a shock, notes Len Steiner of The Daily Livestock Report. “We’ve been talking about a red meat-cancer link for 25 years, so this isn’t exactly news,” he says.