WHO expected to link red meat to cancer

Meat industry official: 'It's our 12-alarm fire'

In October, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is expected to release a report that could classify red meat as carcinogenic to humans, Deena Shanker writes for Quartz.

Various studies have linked red meant to shorter life spans and cardiovascular disease, and an IRAC report issued in April 2014 found an association between red and processed meats and colorectal, esophageal, lung, and pancreatic cancer. After the report, IARC determined the connection a "high priority" for review and has been conducting research on the subject since.  

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IARC issues its classifications on a scale of one to four, with one being "carcinogenic to humans" and four being "probably not carcinogenic to humans."

Representatives from the meat industry say a classification between 1 and 2A ("probably carcinogenic to humans") could be disastrous for the industry.

"It's our 12-alarm fire, because if they determine that red and processed meat causes cancer—and I think that they will—that moniker will stick around for years," Betsy Booren, VP for scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute, said at a recent conference, Meatingplace [DD1] reports. "It could take decades and billions of dollars to change that," she added.

Booren noted the trade group—which represents companies that process 95% of red meat products in the United States and their suppliers—would be happy with a classification of 2B ("possibly carcinogenic to humans") or above, calling it a potential "win for our industry." IARC typically issues a classification of 2B when a substance has been shown to cause cancer in animals, but the effect on humans is inconclusive, Booren said.

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According to Shanker, there are many commonly used substances that have received either a 2A or 2B classification, but that the carcinogenic effects really depend on the amount consumed. She writes, "Labeling red and processed meats as 'potentially causes cancer' really only means people should eat less of it, not that they can't eat any at all" (Shanker, Quartz, 7/28; Heneghan, Food Dive, 7/28; NAMI, 7/29).

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