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Red Meat Boosts Cancer Risk: Study

“I don’t think it paints a picture of what is generally happening with consumers’ dietary habits.”


Battered by low incomes, trade challenges and other woes, Canadian livestock producers’ latest problem is a new study which says eating red meat can shorten your life.

The U. S. study tracked half a million Americans aged 50 to 71 over 10 years. It found “modest increases in risk for total mortality, as well as cancer and CVD (cardio-vascular disease) mortality, with higher intakes of red and processed meat in both men and women.”

It also found people who ate more white meat had a lower risk of dying, especially of cancer.

The study appeared March 23 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, published by the American Medical Association.

The study split people into five groups, ranging from lowest to highest risk. The lowest-risk people ate an average of 17.7 grams of red meat a day, which those in the highest-risk category consumed 144 grams daily.

The death rates increased steadily with the amount of red meat consumed, while rates of death for white meat eaters either declined or remained stable.

The findings aren’t exactly cheery news to Canada’s beleaguered cattle producers, admitted Ron Glaser, executive director of communications for the Beef Information Centre in Calgary.

But he suggested the results were skewed because the daily beef intake level of the highest-risk group was nearly double what the average Canadian actually consumes, he said.

“I don’t think it paints a picture of what is generally happening with consumers’ dietary habits,” said Glaser. “It doesn’t apply to the vast majority of our consumers.”

However, the study’s results ring true with the Canadian Cancer Society, which says research shows a diet high in red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the country.

The CCS suggests people limit the total amount of red meat they consume to 500 grams (18 ounces) a week. Cooked portion sizes should weigh no more than 85 grams (three ounces).

The Canada Food Guide recommends adults eat two to three daily servings of meat or its alternatives. A serving weighs roughly 85 grams.

The cancer society also warns against eating too much processed meat, saying added preservatives have also been linked to colorectal cancer. It encourages consumers to choose poultry or fish more often.

That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t eat red meat. They should just reduce their intake, said Heather Chappell, a Canadian Cancer Society spokesperson.

“We are not advocating eliminating red meat out of the diet. We’re just saying people need to be aware of the risks and try to limit the number of servings they’re consuming,” Chappell, the society’s senior manager for cancer control policy, said from Toronto.

None of this is helpful to an industry whose producers have suffered prolonged economic woes ever since BSE was discovered in Alberta nearly six years ago.

BSE also contr ibuted to a growing image problem for beef. Health critics say too much beef contributes to heart disease, cancer and obesity. Environmentalists accuse cattle of contributing to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, vegetarians and animal rights activists find beef an easy target for their campaigns.

Glaser said BIC will send letters to major newspapers in the days ahead responding to the study.

BIC’s message is that beef is a healthful food containing 14 essential nutrients and part of the Canada Food Guide, he said.

The centre, funded by Canada’s beef industry, also plans a $1.4 million marketing campaign in southern Ontario targeting “light” beef eaters and encouraging them to eat one or two more servings each week, said Glaser. [email protected]

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