Washington Restaurant Market Watch: U.N. agency sees possible red meat-cancer link

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: U.N. agency sees possible red meat-cancer link https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/redmeat500-500x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

You’ve probably heard the cliché before: Anything that tastes good is probably bad for you.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, this is the case when it comes to red meats.

The IARC’s report was based on a review of 800 studies.

This association between cancer and red meat was observed primarily for colorectal cancer although the agency also established connections between red meat and pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Programme, said in an official statement. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

According to the IARC, consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans while processed was classified as carcinogenic to humans.

”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” Dr. Christopher Wild, IARC director, said in an official statement. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”

Smithsonian magazine points out that that the IARC’s “carcinogenic” classification does not include all meat, the report doesn’t contain guidelines on how to cook or consume meat and no one is even suggesting that people should give up eating meat.

“Experts not involved in the report said that the findings should give people more reason to ‘moderate’ their intake of processed meat. But they cautioned that any increased risk of cancer was relatively small,” Anahad O’Connor wrote in the New York Times.

One expert who urges caution in the wake of the report is Dr. John Ionnidis, chairman of disease prevention at Stanford.

“I think it’s very important that we don’t terrorize people into thinking that they should not eat any red meat at all,” Ioannidis told the New York Times. “There’s some risk involved, but it’s much less than smoking or alcohol. I think it would be an exaggeration to say based on this that no one should be eating red or processed meat. There’s still a lot of uncertainty.”

James Coughlin, a nutritional toxicologist and a consultant for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said the IARC’s conclusions were based on “weak associations” that did not support its overall conclusions. Indeed, the panel itself was divided. Of 22 members who voted, seven either disagreed or opted to abstain.

“That rarely ever happens,” Coughlin observed. “The I.A.R.C. looks for consensus, and occasionally there’s one or two people who disagree. We’re calling this a majority opinion as opposed to a consensus or unanimous opinion.”

With or without the IARC report, ted meat consumption has declined considerable, in the United States, during the past 40 years.

Beef consumption peaked in the mid-1970s, when there were the first rumblings of a possible cancer link, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while chicken consumption has doubled since that time.

For more information on the IARC’s monograph on cancer and red meat, see this Q&A from the National Restaurant Association.

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