The World Health Organization (WHO) is adding strong corroboration to a startling claim that many nutritionists and health experts have been making for years: processed meat causes cancer. Additionally, red meat, including beef, pork, lamb and veal is “probably carcinogenic.”
WHO released the statement based on the evidence gathered by a team of 22 scientists. After reviewing a series of studies — which includes comprehensive literature on colorectal cancer published in 2011 by the World Cancer Research Fund — the team found consumption of red and processed meat causes a 16 percent increased risk of cancer per 100 grams. According to the study, the increased risk includes colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.
The International Agency For Research on Cancer says the new evidence elevates processed and red meats — including most grocery store sandwich meat, bacon, and sausage — into the same category as tobacco and asbestos, a “group 1” carcinogen. The study does not mention grass-fed or organic sources of red meat decreasing the risk.
Proximity to the cooking flame may factor into the creation of carcinogenic properties, although WHO can’t yet state the exact mechanism by which this would occur. According to an article byForks Over Knives posted last year:
“It could be the heterocyclic amines — carcinogens that form as meat is cooked. It could also be the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or the heme iron in meat, or perhaps its lack of fiber and paucity of antioxidants. But really the situation is like tobacco. We know tobacco causes lung cancer, even though no one yet knows exactly which part of the tobacco smoke is the major culprit. And although meat-eaters clearly have higher cancer rates, it is not yet clear which part of meat does the deed.”
The article goes on to state that the links between red meat and cancer have actually been known since 1907, when the New York Times reported that a seven-year epidemiological study showed meat eaters had an increased risk of cancer.
The Forks Over Knives article reports that more widespread acceptance of this information may have been buoyed by two far more recent studies:“the 2009 NIH-AARP study, with half a million participants; and a 2012 Harvard study with 120,000 participants.”
WHO officially recommends “consuming a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant foods and limiting consumption of processed meat and red meat.”
It begs the question: how long have commercial meat companies known about the danger of their products? As with tobacco and asbestos — which processed and red meat now equals in cancer risk — it certainly seems possible there was some effort to ignore or cover up associated health risks.
With an increasing body of evidence suggesting these various forms of meat dramatically increase the risk of cancer, it remains to be seen whether mainstream health institutes and media networks will push for labels or public disclosures from corporations that produce these products. World organizations’ recent advocacy for synthetic meat and major profit blows to fast food establishments like McDonald’s could be signs we are experiencing the development of a large movement to reduce the world’s dependence on animal agriculture, which researchers have already shown is detrimental to the environment.