Science Doesn't Support IARC Opinion on Meat & Cancer

Jamie Johansen

Beef checkoffThe International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was assigned to review all of the available evidence on red meat and cancer risk, yet were divided on their opinion whether to label red meat a “probable” cause of cancer, according to the Beef Checkoff nutrition scientist and registered dietitian who observed the controversial process. After seven days of deliberation in Lyon, France, IARC was unable to reach a consensus agreement from a group of 22 experts in the field of cancer research. In this case, they had to settle for “majority” agreement. More research from the Beef Checkoff can be found here.

“Cancer is a complex disease that even the best and brightest minds don’t fully understand,” says Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD. “Billions of dollars have been spent on studies all over the world and no single food has ever been proven to cause or cure cancer. The opinion by the IARC committee to list red meat as a probable carcinogen does not change that fact. The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”

nppc_logoThe National Pork Producers Council said the World Health Organization concluded that the relative risk of contracting cancer from consuming red or processed meat is low. It did classify processed meat as a cause of colorectal cancer and a possible cause of gastric cancer and red meat as a probable cause of colorectal cancer and a possible cause of pancreatic and prostate cancer. IARC previously has classified as carcinogens such things as sunlight, alcoholic beverages and being a barber.

“You know, my mother used to say, ‘Everything in moderation,’” said NPPC President Dr. Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from Camden, S.C. “She was a very smart woman, and the smart people out there know you don’t eat a pound of anything every day. So take this IARC report with a grain of salt, but not too much salt because that would be bad for you.”

The IARC classifications on meat, said NPPC, were reached after including studies that did not have statistically significant results, meaning the conclusions are questionable. In fact, IARC’s conclusions were based on “relatively weak statistical associations from epidemiological studies that were not designed to show cause and effect.” In many of the studies, cancer risks were only associated with high levels of consumption.

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