Q&A on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Monograph on Red Meat and Processed Meat

Q&A on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Monograph on Red Meat and Processed Meat https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/pepperoni2015-640x198.jpg

Updated Oct. 26, 2015

What is the IARC?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France, is part of the World Health Organization. Its major role is to identify possible causes of cancer. The IARC classifies carcinogens through its Monograph program, which convenes panels of scientists to examine scientific evidence and conduct hazard assessments.

What is a hazard assessment? 

A hazard assessment examines whether a substance or an occupation could, under some circumstance, at some level, pose a cancer risk. The IARC’s Monograph Program’s role is to identify cancer hazards. It does not evaluate the risks associated with actual exposure. It is not a risk assessment, which measures probability that cancer will occur, taking into account the level of exposure. Without a risk assessment, hazards can be identified but the likelihood (or degree to which) they cause harm cannot be measured. A hazard assessment only looks for potential problems.

What did the IARC determine after reviewing red meat and processed meat?
The IARC’s Oct. 26 Monograph places processed meats in the highest hazard classification (Group 1: carcinogenic to humans). The IARC places red meat in its second-highest classification (Group 2A: probably carcinogenic to humans).

What is a Group 1 classification?
The IARC classifies a substance as Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans) when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. The Group 1 classification does not mean that eating processed or red meat will result in cancer.

What is a Group 2A classification?
The IARC put red meat into its Group 2 (probably carcinogenic to humans) category. This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.

Does this mean eating red meat and/or processed meat causes cancer?

The research the IARC reviews does not prove cause and effect. The IARC instead tries to make conclusions about theoretical hazards. The IARC bases its Monographs on research completed by others. Each IARC Working Group has the task of determining which research to consider and which research to disregard in their evaluation.

Did the IARC come to a unanimous conclusion about red and processed meats?

The IARC working group strives to achieve a consensus evaluation. This reflects broad agreement among working group members, but not necessarily unanimity.

Should I stop eating meat?

The IARC’s role is to conduct a hazard assessment, not to make nutrition recommendations. The IARC looks at whether a substance or an occupation could, under some circumstance, at some level, pose a cancer risk. Consumers may continue to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines include meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Should I stop serving meat in my restaurant?

Restaurants can continue to serve foods including red meat and processed meat. These foods are generally recognized as safe by the U.S. government and are part of a healthy, balanced diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Did the IARC consider the nutrition benefits of meat?

No. The IARC’s role is to conduct a hazard assessment. This examines whether a substance or an occupation could, under some circumstance, at some level, pose a cancer risk. The IARC did not look at meat’s nutrition benefits in assigning its classification and did not consider the negative implications of discouraging consumers from making meat part of their healthy diet.

What kind of studies does the IARC consider?

The Monograph panel considers human epidemiological studies. These studies can rely either on food diaries kept by people participating in the study or studies where participants are asked to recall what they ate in the past. The studies then look at how these reported diets correlate with participants’ health. The Monograph panel also considers studies where animals are fed certain diets, and the health outcomes for these animals.

What are the implications of the IARC decision?

The IARC’s decision is likely to get a great deal of media attention, and opponents of red and processed meat are expected to highlight the report extensively. The decision could garner even more attention because it is being issued around the same time the United States is expected to release its five-year update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While we don’t expect inclusion of this determination in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, it is possible that some reference to it could be added.

As with all science, which continues to evolve, we anticipate that this report will be reviewed for its scientific rigor by other scientific organizations and groups as well as by regulatory and legislative bodies.

As a result of this decision, is my restaurant at increased risk for legal action?

While it is possible that trial lawyers may seek to exploit this determination, red meat and meat are generally recognized as safe by the U.S. government and are part of a healthy, balanced diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

What does this mean for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines are meant to provide evidence-based food and beverage recommendations for Americans ages two and older. The current Guidelines recommend that Americans choose a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.  The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture are expected to release the 2015 guidelines this December. While we don’t expect inclusion of the IARC’s determination in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, it is possible that some reference to it could be added. Presumably, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that recommended the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to USDA and HHS reviewed the same research as the IARC.

Again, it’s important to remember that IARC’s role is to conduct a hazard assessment that examines whether a substance or an occupation could, under some circumstance, at some level, pose a cancer risk. The IARC did not consider meat’s nutrition benefits in assigning its classification. Nor did it consider the negative implications of discouraging consumers from making meat part of their healthy diet.

What other substances or foods has the IARC put in the same categories as red and processed meat?

Other agents and occupations that have received the highest risk classifications include ultraviolet radiation, wood dust, salted fish, alcohol and hair coloring, for example.

Do you expect this will affect meat prices?

In the short term, it’s unlikely. Wholesale meat price inflation has moderated recently, with some prices trending downward.

Who can I work with at the National Restaurant Association if I have questions on the IARC or its determinations?

Members of the National Restaurant Association can contact Joan McGlockton, jmcglockton@restaurant.org, for questions on the IARC or its determinations. For media and communications inquiries, contact Sue Hensley, shensley@restaurant.org.

(Source: National Restaurant Association)