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Don’t Be Afraid to Bring Home the Bacon; IARC Conclusions May Not Be What You Think

October 27, 2015

By: Samantha Cooper, Manager, Food Safety and Quality Assurance

The news is filled with headlines about the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) carcinogenicity evaluation of the consumption of red meat and processed meat, classifying processed meat such as bacon and hot dogs as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic. Some consumers seeing this announcement on their local news station or newspaper may grow fearful from this report, and might consider cutting these foods from their diet. We hope not.

Here’s why: Dozens of studies show no correlation between meat consumption and cancer, and countless studies show the health benefits of a balanced diet containing meat.

Interestingly, the health benefits of meat consumption was addressed in the IARC published summary in The Lancet Oncology: “Red meat contains high biological value proteins and important micronutrients such as B vitamins, iron (both free iron and haem iron), and zinc.” Meat provides a complete, high-quality protein that is packed with essential and highly absorbable nutrients that play a vital role in a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, the IARC working group was not asked to consider the off-setting benefits of meat consumption or balanced diets as a whole, even noting these challenges in the released publication: “Chance, bias and confounding could not be ruled out with the same degree of confidence for the data on red meat consumption, since no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies and residual confounding from other diet and lifestyle risk is difficult to exclude.”

Cancer is a complex disease and there are a number of factors that can contribute to the probability of its development. However, there is broad consensus within the scientific community that no single food causes cancer.

Before releasing to the world that consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, and the consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans, the entirety of the risks and benefits need to be considered. Without looking at the whole picture, how can such a claim be made? It is simply irresponsible.

 

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