Warning: Processed meats cause cancer

Discussion
Oct 27, 2015

If you are among the millions who love to eat processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs, the World Health Organization (WHO) wants you to know that you’re killing yourself.

While reports in the past have suggested a possible link between the consumption of processed meats and colorectal cancer, the new report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the WHO’s cancer agency, doesn’t hedge, declaring the food products to be "carcinogenic to humans."

According to the IARC report, each 50-gram portion of meat eaten on a daily basis increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

The WHO’s new classification of processed meats put them in the same category as smoking and asbestos. The group explained, however, that does not mean that it views processed meats as equally dangerous as those substances. WHO said that 34,000 deaths a year across the globe can be attributed to diets high in processed meats.

Whole Foods bacon sign

Photo: RetailWire

"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," said Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Programme, in a statement. "In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."

As expected, meat industry groups came out strongly against the IARC report.

"They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome," Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute, told CNN.

According to the IARC, its researchers reviewed more than 800 studies that investigated links between the consumption of red or processed meats and more than a dozen types of cancer. The most important evidence came from studies conducted over the past 20 years.

Should the labels on processed meats come with a health warning in light of the IARC’s findings? What effect, if any, will the IARC have on the consumption of processed meat in the U.S.?

Braintrust
"Consumers have become numb to the constant drumbeat of what "experts" say is good and bad for you. Too often the experts are wrong, so wrong that their findings are completely reversed. Eggs, coffee, butter, the list goes on, were first thought to be bad and now are thought to be good. Leave the labels off the bacon."
""More bacon" is a fast-food selling point here in America. The hot dog is an unofficial symbol of patriotism. Steak is an emblem of prosperity here and in many other parts of the world."

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21 Comments on "Warning: Processed meats cause cancer"

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Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
1 year 11 months ago

Obviously there is a lot of buzz about it today and it might bring down sales temporarily. But already media sites are starting to provide a counterpoint and pointing out what the announcement means and doesn’t mean.

One thing they have not mentioned and I have not seen anyone mention about the processed foods is exactly what it is that is considered dangerous. Personally I try to eat processed foods without nitrates since I have heard those are really bad for you. I wish the announcement had made a distinction and clarified exactly which sort of processed foods were studied and what substance was considered to be dangerous.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Consumers have become numb to the constant drumbeat of what “experts” say is good and bad for you. Too often the experts are wrong, so wrong that their findings are completely reversed. Eggs, coffee, butter, the list goes on, were first thought to be bad and now are thought to be good. Leave the labels off the bacon.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

Brief responses — No on the labeling and very little on the impact. Even tobacco was subject to dozens of studies prior to the labeling requirement. And sales of processed meat in general has been flat or down, so this will be no more than a blip accentuating the current trend.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The problem is really SAD (the Standard American Diet). What Americans eat on average is largely bad for them and processed meats are just one component. So if processed meats need a warning label, so do high-sugar and HFCS products, high-salt products (especially factory salt), dairy, etc. So even though I don’t consume them, I don’t see the need to single out processed meats with a warning label any more than the other health culprits, as long as all ingredients are disclosed in the ingredients list. One exception though is GMOs. GMO makers have used deceptive and hidden practices to try and camouflage the fact that they are included in foods.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The label should say, “A hot dog a day will kill you.”

This isn’t new news at all. But because of the press, yes, consumption will go down.

David Livingston
Guest
1 year 11 months ago

We all know if you overdo eating junk food, things will turn out poorly for you. I don’t see a need for labels. Just education. Like Max says, consumers have become numb. Bacon tastes good. Hot dogs at the ball park taste good. Guess who will win?

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Labels? No, this is not necessary. Will it temporarily temper sales? Yes. Should Americans be more conscientious of what they consume? Absolutely. Will another study refutes these findings? Yes, most likely.

Consumers will continue to eat and drink whatever they choose despite warnings … it’s the American way.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

I find it amusing that we discuss label warnings on products identified, or suspected, to cause harm. The idea of being able to make such a product and the right to buy such a product trumps all else. People will buy what they want — legal or otherwise — to satisfy their desires. Labeling gives you the illusion that you’re doing something concrete for the public good. The ultimate example is cigarettes.

As to consumption of processed meat in the U.S., it might take a dip but it remains the primary choice for an economic segment of the population due to a lower price point.

J. Peter Deeb
BrainTrust

Let’s just label everything as bad for you! Overconsumption of fatty foods leads to high cholesterol, too much roughage leads to diverticulitis, caffeine in excess is bad for you etc., etc.! Educate people but don’t terrorize them! Our society already comes with so many disclaimers (see TV or magazine drug ads — and these are supposed to help you!) that most people are numb to it.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

If it bleeds it leads…and it will always be thus in public media.

Yes, apparently there is some correlation between processed meats and some forms of cancer. But as gafpromise notes, there is no suggestion as to what exactly is the culprit.

Go directly to The Lancet Oncology Journal and and you’ll find the actual conclusion of this research:

“On the basis of the large amount of data and the consistent associations of colorectal cancer with consumption of processed meat across studies in different populations, which make chance, bias, and confounding unlikely as explanations, a majority of the Working Group concluded that there is sufficient evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of processed meat.

Chance, bias, and confounding could not be ruled out with the same degree of confidence for the data on red meat consumption, since no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies and residual confounding from other diet and lifestyle risk is difficult to exclude. The Working Group concluded that there is limited evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat.”

BBQ … this weekend … my place.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
1 year 11 months ago

It’s probably true that this study will have limited effect on sales for now, but the longer-term is another matter. The natural industry reaction may be to get defensive and/or stick our collective heads in the sand. But evidence is beginning to pile up. This is what happened, at first, with tobacco, but the momentum to do something accelerated over time. Better for processed meat and red meat producers to work to figure out what is going on and what they can do about it before they have an enormous problem on their collective hands.

Steven Collinsworth
Guest
Steven Collinsworth
1 year 11 months ago

Warning: “Living Your Life” can be hazardous to your health!

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Not sure we needed another study to warn us about the dangers of processed meats which — as the feedback indicates — are consumed with great gusto regardless of their health properties or lack thereof. But for the record, an informational note for gafpromise.

If you are really trying to avoid nitrates, the label may not be your friend. For example, a product can be legally sold as nitrate-free but contain celery powder or celery juice which are, in fact, nitrates.

Of course, celery sounds so much healthier, doesn’t it?

Jack Pansegrau
Guest
Jack Pansegrau
1 year 11 months ago

Yes, but “soft” — meaning it should suggest limiting daily consumption. I also agree that the bigger problem is Food, Inc. and the American/Western diet. Perhaps as part of Common Core we should bring back classes in nutrition, cuisine, music, art and physical education. Then we might improve our food culture.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

It’s a no-brainer that eating lots of processed meat contributes to cancer. Labels would help, as they would on many other products with excess sugar and all, but I won’t lose a lot of sleep either way. People have to start taking responsibility for their health, since it’s clear by now that so many foods, eaten in excess, will kill you. So far, too few people are acting on what they already know. Moving the needle on this stuff takes a very, very long time. The industry will do all it can to push away anything that threatens sales and profits. It also has the lobbyists available to do so. Labels? Sure. But don’t hold your breath.

gordon arnold
Guest

So a processed tobacco cigarette, a processed bacon sandwich on processed white bread and a cup of coffee with processed artificial or white sugar sweetener is dangerous. Wow, who knew? I guess we should consider expanding the use of mandatory danger labels. Or what about an alarm app that goes off on our smartphone when we are close to buying this processed stuff? Now that would be 21st century value improvements for all. But we all know that the government will have to inflate these dangerous substances to something like $30.00 or $50.00 per pound to save us all from ourselves. And that’s the good news, or is it?

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
1 year 11 months ago

This will have zero impact on folks who already eat meat for the filling taste and for the protein. Consumers are tired of being told what to eat only to be told later by a different group of scientists that the earlier information was meritless and possibly dangerous advice (see the redemption of eggs, whole milk, real butter, red wine, etc. — the list is long).

When I saw the headlines on all the major websites yesterday, I rolled my eyes and thought “here we go again.” Then I had some yummy crispy bacon with my freshly made cauliflower frittata.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

If meat products containing nitrates and nitrites require a health warning, then so should products containing sodium, refined sugar or refined flour. Not to mention hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, colors and artificial sweeteners.

“Anti-marketing” measures used to be confined to tobacco. Now we consider whether we can label our way to healthier food consumption. Not likely, so long as our entire industry is built upon the mass distribution of factory-farmed, highly refined foods and ingredients.

“More bacon” is a fast-food selling point here in America. The hot dog is an unofficial symbol of patriotism. Steak is an emblem of prosperity here and in many other parts of the world.

While we bicker over warning labels (and I do believe they will soon be required by many countries), far more public good may be accomplished by promoting healthier diet choices in the media.

The food establishment has a choice — it can circle the wagons and try to discredit the science or it can advocate and innovate and even promote cleaner eating. Guess which path will earn greater respect from consumers?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

This sounds like one of those GEICO ads: “If you’re an IARCer you find cancer risk in practically everything; that’s what you do.” But rather than saving 15% on their car insurance, I think most Americans will ignore the warnings. We have our own health agencies, quite capable of deciding these things, thank you.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Reading labels = stress, stress = health issues, health issues are bad. Maybe we should just label all food with between 1 and 4 “devil emoticons” so that people can at a glance see what the degree of badness in what they are selecting is. Everything gets at least 1 devil.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

If they want my BLT double meat sandwich, they will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. Guess what folks? We are all allowed to decide what we want to eat, and this scare tactic won’t change bacon lovers one bit. Who the heck wants a nice juicy tofu steak on the grill? I hear crickets. Leave us to our choices in life, as it is how we all want to live.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Consumers have become numb to the constant drumbeat of what "experts" say is good and bad for you. Too often the experts are wrong, so wrong that their findings are completely reversed. Eggs, coffee, butter, the list goes on, were first thought to be bad and now are thought to be good. Leave the labels off the bacon."
""More bacon" is a fast-food selling point here in America. The hot dog is an unofficial symbol of patriotism. Steak is an emblem of prosperity here and in many other parts of the world."

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