One expert is urging schools not to stop serving bacon and burgers to children after the World Heath Organization (WHO) released a report saying processed meat causes cancer.
The report, released Monday, classifies processed meats as group one carcinogens while red meat has been placed in group two A as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Processed meat has been cooked or altered to change the taste or preserve the meat. Most processed meats have either been cured, smoked or had salt or preservatives added. Processed meat includes some of the nation’s favorite foods, including hot dogs, corned beef, bacon and sausages.
Researchers from 10 different countries decided a 50-gram portion of processed meat, equivalent to two strips of bacon, eaten daily raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reacted to the report by arguing that processed meats should be removed from school meals and urged the United States Department of Agriculture to scrap processed meats from school menus.
The PCRM has long been committed to heavily regulating school meals to reduce meat consumption. But the National Center for Public Policy’s research risk analysis director Jeff Stier believes any health threat posed by such foods is dramatically less than the headlines suggests.
Stier points out that other studies challenge the WHO’s conclusions, but more importantly, even if your chance of getting colorectal cancer did increase by 18 percent your chances of getting in the first place are minimal at best.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there were just 42.4 new cases per 100,000 people. “Without this context, it is easy to pay attention to the ’18 percent’ number without understanding context. It’s like saying that living near a NASA facility triples your chances of getting hit by an errant spaceship. It may be true, but it doesn’t mean much,” said Stier.
Stier went on to say that WHO does not recommend that people should ditch processed meats entirely. He labeled the petition from the PCRM to ditch certain meats from school menus as “predictable activism from a vegan advocacy group.”
But Stier worries that the PCRM position “might appeal to some at the USDA.” In 2009, the PCRM tried to get the USDA to ban processed meat and poultry from school lunches but the request was denied thanks to a lack of “consensus documents of the U.S. Government or of the leading world bodies with cancer expertise.”
The PCRM may try and leverage the latest WHO report to fit its agenda of expelling processed meats from school, but Stier claims it is misusing the evidence.
“What PCRM and their allies won’t tell you is that they IARC did not find an increased risk of cancer from moderate consumption of processed meats. All sorts of naturally-occurring chemicals from healthy fruits and vegetables in our food could be classified as carcinogens. But that doesn’t mean schools should stop serving them since they do not present a cancer risk at normal levels of consumption,” said Stier.
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