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WHO announces processed meats could be carcinogenic

Red meat could also be harmful

By Diego Flammini,

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that red meat and processed meats could potentially cause cancer.

World Health Organization

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), consuming red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The research mainly saw instances of colorectal cancer, but pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer were also seen.

Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat. The meats fall under the IARC’s Group 2A classification, meaning that “a positive association has been observed between exposure (to the meat) and cancer.” Other factors including random chance have not been ruled out either.

In addition to red meat, processed meats were considered “carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

Researchers determined that with every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily, the chance of colorectal cancer increases by about 18%.

Approximately two and a half slices of bologna or less than two slices of bacon can make up 50 grams.

”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” said Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of IARC in a press release. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”

Meat that’s been “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes” to increase flavour is considered processed meat. They may contain pork or beef, but some will have other types of red meat, poultry or meat by-products including blood.

Processed meats are classified under Group 1 of IARC classifications, meaning they are “carcinogenic to humans.”

According to Beef2Live, the United States is the largest beef producer in the world. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that beef exports in 2014 were valued around $6.5 billion.

Canada Beef reports that Canada ranks 11th among beef production in the world and 6th in beef exports. In 2012, Canada exported about $1.2 billion worth of beef.

Join the conversation and tell us your thoughts on the WHO’s findings about the consumption of red and processed meats.

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