Cancer ‘hazard’ not a cancer ‘risk,’ meat industry cautions


A new report classifying processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon as “carcinogenic” to humans doesn’t set out a cause-and-effect link between meats and cancer, industry groups caution.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization, on Monday published a report placing processed meats in its Group 1 category, which includes substances such as tobacco and asbestos with “sufficient evidence” of links to cancer.

The IARC on Monday also put red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, in its Group 2A — where glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, was recently also classified as a “probable” carcinogen. (The IARC’s Group 2B, of “possible” carcinogens, recently saw 2,4-D herbicide added to the list.)

In its response Monday to the report, the Canadian Meat Council emphasized that the IARC defines an agent that “may cause cancer at some level, under some circumstance,” as a “cancer hazard.”

However, the CMC said, actual “cancer risk” gauges the likelihood of experiencing cancer after being exposed to a “cancer hazard,” and the IARC identifies such hazards even when the risks are “very low.”

Such findings aren’t unusual for the IARC, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a separate release, saying the agency “has found hazards in about half of the agents it has reviewed.”

For its 2A classification for red meat, the CCA said, the IARC’s review of existing epidemiological studies “concluded that there is limited evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat,” and “no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies and residual confounding from other diet and lifestyle risk is difficult to exclude.”

Colorectal cancer was the IARC report’s “principal focus” relative to red meat, the CCA said. The report had cited 10 cohort studies with a “statistically significant dose–response relationship,” with a 17 per cent increased risk per 100 grams per day of red meat.

Given that the American Society of Clinical Oncology has estimated a person with an “average” risk of colorectal cancer has about a five per cent chance of developing colorectal cancer overall, consuming 100 g per day of red meat would increase the risk of colorectal cancer by just under one per cent in absolute terms, the CCA said.

The meat industry has previously estimated Canadians, on average, eat only about 50 g of fresh red meat per day. Thus, the CCA said, “if there is an increase in the potential risk of colorectal cancer from red meat consumption, by these estimates it is small and must be considered relative to the very significant nutritional benefits that red meat provides.”

“It is regrettable that, in arriving at its split decision, the IARC panel reportedly chose to disregard certain studies which present high quality evidence to the contrary,” CMC president Joe Reda said.

“Furthermore, the agency did not balance its verdict by taking into account either the proven benefits of meat or the substantive implications of removing meat from the diet… Risks and benefits should both be considered before recommending what people eat and drink.” — Network

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