WHO backpedals on red meat/cancer link

November 3, 2015

3 Min Read
WHO backpedals on red meat/cancer link

Last week, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released the results of an ongoing review of red meat and processed meat, concluding that these items are “probably carcinogenic.” The resulting headlines equated bacon to cigarettes and have folks thinking twice about eating beef.

The recommendation left consumers spinning as it seems one minute a food is deemed healthy and the next it’s dangerous to eat. 

READ: 3 ways to disprove IARC on red meat & cancer link

After a week of public outcry about IARC’s conclusions, it’s been revealed that even the WHO panel was divided. Of the 22 panel members, seven disagreed with the conclusion or chose to abstain.

Rightfully so, the beef industry is outraged by IARC’s conclusions, particularly given the fact that the committee chose to ignore a large body of research that supports beef as a part of a healthy diet.

Betsy Booren, Ph.D., vice president of scientific affairs for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), explains how quick IARC is to link cancer to various items

READ: Scientists cry foul over IARC red meat-cancer conclusions

“Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer," explains Booren, in a NAMI press release. "IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (Group 1 carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (Group 1), apply aloe vera (Group 2B) if you get a sunburn, drink wine or coffee (Group 1 and Group 2B), or eat grilled food (Group 2A). And if you are a hairdresser or do shiftwork (both Group 2A), you should seek a new career.”

A recent beefmagazine.com poll asked BEEF readers, “Do you think WHO has an anti-beef agenda?” With 87 votes so far, 79% of voters said, “Yes, the recently released cancer report saying beef is a carcinogen is bad science.” Another 14% said, “No, the report is accurate.” The remaining 7% aren’t sure.

Reader boldridgere writes, “How can ‘probably’ be good science? (Regarding IARC stating that red meat is probably a carcinogen.) At best it's only a hypothesis and is unproven scientifically.”

While WHO certainly can’t erase all of the negative headlines, the organization is backpedaling on IARC’s recommendations.

In the most recent edition of Cattle Buyers Weekly, Steve Kay writes, “WHO is eating a little humble pie. It offers what it calls a follow up and clarification on its recommendations regarding meat consumption. This comes after the global media uproar over the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report on red and processed meats. The WHO says there are shortcomings with the IARC’s classifications which allow the results to be misinterpreted. The WHO has also distanced itself from comments made by IARC panel members earlier in the week saying that processed meats should be avoided. The WHO will further look at the place of processed meat and red meat within the context of an overall healthy diet in 2016, it says.”

It’s unfortunate that IARC felt confident enough to release a recommendation on a whole, natural, nourishing food like beef based on nothing more than personal bias and poor science. While the damage can’t be undone, we can focus on sharing beef’s nutritional profile on social media this week. Let’s reassure folks that beef is a food they can feel good feeding their families.

What do you think about WHO changing its tune on the red meat and cancer link? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.


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