Editorials

Editorial: Heed meat warning, but keep perspective

A new study finds a connection between certain kinds of cancer and red meat, processed meats and bacon.
A new study finds a connection between certain kinds of cancer and red meat, processed meats and bacon. The Associated Press file

Bacon, hot dogs and steaks – medium rare, please – are delicious. But like so many things in life, excessive consumption is risky.

The World Health Organization made that reality clear once more Oct. 26 by declaring that meat, particularly processed meat, probably contributes to colon, stomach and other types of cancer.

The World Health Organization, part of the United Nations, said in its opening statement that if reported associations are proven to be causal, the Global Burden of Disease Project estimates that diets high in red meat could be responsible for 50,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide.

Representatives of the meat industry denounced the finding. But the International Agency for Research on Cancer is a highly respected body. Its findings no doubt will be relevant as California’s own Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment considers whether to list as a carcinogen nitrites, which are used to cure processed meat, in combination with certain compounds known as amines and amides.

Not to discount the impact on health from the excessive consumption of meat, processed and otherwise, but a little perspective is in order.

Overall, the Working Group classified consumption of processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer. The Working Group classified consumption of red meat as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’

Report

Smoking is linked to about 1 million cancer deaths annually worldwide. Alcohol accounts for another 600,000 cancer deaths. Air pollution is responsible for 200,000 cancer deaths annually, the agency said.

The World Health Organization lists many other issues worthy of concern. Traffic fatalities account for 1.25 million deaths annually. Violence accounts for 200,000 deaths of people between the ages of 10 and 29 annually. Hunger causes 3.1 million deaths of children under the age of 5 annually. Think about that. The city of Los Angeles has 3.8 million people.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer reached the conclusion about processed meat and red meat based on a review of 800 studies of consumption and cancer. The panel included 22 scientists from 10 countries, including a half-dozen from U.S. universities and federal agencies.

“Overall, the Working Group classified consumption of processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer,” said the report, published in The Lancet Oncology. “The Working Group classified consumption of red meat as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’ 

We in the United States consume more meat than almost any other nation. That has impacts on the environment, climate change and health.

We would be wise to eat a little less of it, and, while we’re at it, drive more carefully, exercise more regularly and, for those who still smoke, try a little harder to kick the addiction.

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