Today, the the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization's cancer research agency, classified the consumption of red meat as "probably carcinogenic to humans," and that processed meat was classified as "carcinogenic to humans."
The announcement came after 22 experts from 10 countries "thoroughly review[ed] the accumulated scientific literature" on the subject.
Based on limited evidence, WHO said, the consumption of red meat was found to cause cancer in humans. There was stronger evidence "supporting a carcinogenic effect."
For processed meat, there was "sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer." Each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%, WHO said.
America's meat industry is not letting themselves get dragged into the abattoir by this news.
In a statement entitled, "IARC Report Disregards Benefits of Red and Processed Meats," the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) headquartered in Elizabethtown, Pa. said WHO is ignoring "countless scientific studies" that "show no connection between meat and cancer," and failed to consider " the negative implications of discouraging consumers from making meat part of their healthy, balanced diet.”
While the AAMP did not enumerate meat's benefits in its statement, it linked out to a page set up by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), a national trade association that represents other red meat as well as turkey processors.
The URL is meatpoultrynutrition.org
The page is basically a list of "scientific" articles addressing meat and health, most of them favorably.
Here are the ones listed under "General Nutrition Contributions of Meat" — almost all of them link out to studies published in "Meat Science," a journal published by the American Meat Science Association, a group that "create[s] and appl[ies] science to efficiently provide safe and high quality meat."
NAMI itself released a rather snarky statement calling the IARC report "dramatic and alarmist."
“IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (Class I carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (Class I), drink wine or coffee (Class I and Class 2B), eat grilled food (Class 2A), or apply aloe vera (Class 2B). And if you are a hairdresser or do shiftwork (both Class 2A), you should seek a new career.”
It's true that WHO has a 35-page list of cancer-causing substances, many of which you encounter on a regular basis.
So, should meat eaters be worried? Susan Gapstur of the American Cancer Society told NPR in a statement that the society recommends "consuming a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant foods and limiting consumption of processed meat and red meat."
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.