The giants of the meat industry were quick to push back to a potentially damaging new report by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency that processed meat causes colon and stomach cancer.
“Cancer is a complex disease that even the best and brightest minds don’t fully understand,” says Shalene McNeill, executive director of nutrition research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Billions of dollars have been spent on studies all over the world and no single food has ever been proven to cause or cure cancer.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer said that processed meat is “carcinogenic to humans,” putting it into a category that includes tobacco, mustard gas and formaldehyde. Eating 50 grams of meat daily that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked or processed in any other way increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%, it said. The group also said red meat was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Meat trade groups are calling the science behind the ruling shoddy. “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,” said Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute. “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.”
The U.K.’s Meat Advisory Panel, funded with grants by the country’s meat industry according to the Daily Mail, said that going for the veggies over the steak will not help individuals avoid cancer.
“What we do know is that avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer,” said Robert Pickard, a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and emeritus professor of neurobiology at Cardiff University, according to the Guardian. “The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes.”