IARC Evaluates Carcinogenicity of Red and Processed Meat

Statement of CSPI Nutrition Director Bonnie Liebman

October 26, 2015

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that processed meats like bacon, sausage, and cold cuts are “carcinogenic to humans” and red meats like beef and pork are “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This solid and reasoned assessment, based on a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, should guide the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services as they finish writing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Sadly, IARC’s report has already provoked new hysteria from the meat industry and is likely to stir up its allies in Congress. They will follow the playbook of all industries that feel they are under attack—asbestos, tobacco, and coal are three that come to mind—and shout from the rooftops that the science is in doubt.

It’s not.

If the meat industry and its political henchmen would listen for a moment, here’s what IARC said: “Eating meat has known health benefits. Many national health recommendations advise people to limit intake of processed meat and red meat, which are linked to increased risks of death from heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.”

Does that sound familiar? Here’s what the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wrote in its report: “Thus, the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.”

The American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, and the World Cancer Research Fund have recommended eating less red and processed meats for years.

The meat industry, which is attacking the IARC, has less credibility than the Flat Earth Society. Here is what a veritable who’s who of scientists wrote in the National Institute for Environmental Health’s “Environmental Health Perspectives” earlier this year: “The IARC Monographs have made, and continue to make, major contributions to the scientific underpinning for societal actions to improve the public’s health.”

In short, IARC is the gold standard for rigor, comprehensiveness, and reasonableness—all qualities in short supply in the meat industry and its friends in Congress.


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