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Forget The Scaremongering, Meat Is Not A Major Cause Of Cancer

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

The World Health Organization (WHO) placed some of America’s favorite meats in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol as a leading cause of cancer.

Bacon, ham and sausages have been deemed dangerous enough to be classified as group one carcinogens while red meat has been placed in group two A as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the WHO, says the evidence linking red meat to colorectal and pancreatic cancer is limited but enough to justify its new group two A status.

Researchers from 10 different countries decided that a 50-gram portion of processed meat, equivalent to two strips of bacon, eaten daily raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Cancer Risks Associated With Meat Consumption

Cancer Risks Associated With Meat Consumption
(Credit: Cancer Research UK)

But meat eaters need not cash in their steaks for kale just yet. While processed meat can lead to some forms of cancer, the likelihood of it doing so is still slim for the vast majority of people.

“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 IARC Monographs.

But even with this caveat WHO has come under fire from scientists and the meat industry. “Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard.’ Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer,” said Betsy Booren, Ph.D., North American Meat Institute and vice president of Scientific Affairs.

“IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (Class one carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (Class I), apply aloe vera (Class  two B) if you get a sunburn, drink wine or coffee (Class one and Class two B), or eat grilled food (Class  two A).And if you are a hairdresser or do shift work (both Class two A), you should seek a new career,” Booren added.

Policy analysts were quick to ridicule the latest food to be added to the seemingly never ending list of eats that can be toxic to humans. Christopher Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told The Daily Caller News Foundation:

So far this year, we have been told that sugar causes diabetes, cheese is addictive, saturated fat gives you heart disease, salt causes hypertension and meat causes cancer. Clearly, the only safe option is to eat nothing at all.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Dr. Ian Johnson, Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Food Research, said:

It is certainly very inappropriate to suggest that any adverse effect of bacon and sausages on the risk of bowel cancer is comparable to the dangers of tobacco smoke, which is loaded with known chemical carcinogens and increases the risk of lung cancer in cigarette smokers by around 20 fold.

Reason Magazine’s Ronald Bailey also points out that the incidence rates for colorectal cancer have been falling for almost two decades thanks to more adults under 50 getting screened.

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