On Monday, October 26, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, announced the results of an ongoing discussion about red meat’s role in a healthy diet. IARC’s conclusion? Red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
In its report, IARC states that a 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. For reference, 50 grams is about 1.75 ounces.
Although IARC considered more than 800 studies to make this conclusion, I believe the committee purposely chose to ignore the large body of research submitted by the beef checkoff and independent scientists. This action is irresponsible at best and malicious at its worst as red meat is a nutrient-rich food that has been eaten and enjoyed for generations — from native tribes eating red meat on the frozen tundra, to pioneers who salted it and kept it year 'round as a source of food on the prairie, to modern-day families who want to confidently feed their children pot roast on a busy school night and not feel guilty about it.
To shed some light on IARC’s reach and influence, the organization has completed reviews of the cancer risk of 984 other substances over the past 50 years, and of those items, approximately 48% were reported to have cancer risk. The highest-risk items include air, sunlight, hair coloring and alcohol.
Cancer devastates families around the world, and as folks become increasingly desperate to find the cause and a cure, it’s easy to pinpoint culprits that may be the cause. However, a whole, natural food like beef that is an abundant source of nutrients like zinc, iron, protein, B vitamins, and more, in my humble opinion, hardly seems like the right culprit to point a finger at.
Without question, this announcement from IARC puts into question consumers’ confidence in beef. While we don’t yet know the market ramifications of this announcement, it’s obvious that the beef industry has some damage control to do.
Here are three resources that address the red meat and cancer risk. Please share this information on social media to help reassure folks that red meat can be a part of a healthy, nourishing diet.
1. The Mediterranean diet is recognized for its reduction in chronic disease, including cancer.
According to beef checkoff research, “The average intake of fresh red meat in the U.S. is 44.2 g per day (WWEIA, 2011-2012). The average intake of processed (cured) meat is 27.8 g per day. Usual U.S. adult consumption of red and processed meat is within, and often lower, than that reported in observational studies of the Mediterranean-style dietary pattern, which is recognized for its reduction in chronic disease risk.”
2. Cancer epidemiologist Dominik Alexander, PhD, points out weak link between red meat and cancer.
Alexander’s independent research finds that, “Most summary associations between red meat and processed meat and cancer are weak in magnitude and not statistically significant. Many associations for red/processed meat and cancer from individual studies are null or inverse. The majority of associations from individual studies are not statistically significant. It’s nearly impossible to disentangle the independent effects of red meat from the complex human diet and lifestyle.”
3. Reference pages of studies from the beef checkoff.
Dozens of research has been gathered into one place that examines red meat intake and any correlations to cancer. Check out these 16 pages of research to answer all of your questions about red meat and cancer.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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