WHO: Processed Meat Causes Cancer in Humans

David Francis

The research arm of the World Health Organization said Monday it has a beef with meat. That includes pork and turkey, too: All might might cause colorectal cancer if they have been processed or otherwise treated for taste.

Predictably, U.S. industry groups are fuming over the new findings by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, released in a damning report, putting the carcinogenic risk from meat on par with smoking, alcohol and tanning beds.

Meats that are salted, cured, fermented, or otherwise preserved now are IARC’s Group 1 offenders — the highest classification for something that can cause cancer. Additionally, IARC concluded that red meat “probably” can cause cancer.

The American meat lobby fired back with a statement accusing the IARC of “dramatic and alarmist over-reach” — and suggested the WHO had unfairly singled out meat among 940 other substances that were reviewed.

“Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer,” said North American Meat Institute Vice President Betsy Booren.

In a statement dripping with sarcasm, Booren said the WHO agency “says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (Class I carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (Class I), drink wine or coffee (Class I and Class 2B), eat grilled food (Class 2A), or apply aloe vera (Class 2B),” Booren said in the statement. “And if you are a hairdresser or do shiftwork (both Class 2A), you should seek a new career.”

The new designation, however, will be welcomed by some opponents of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a massive trade deal being negotiated between the United States and Europe, where U.S. processing of meats and poultry has been a sticking point.

In Europe, there is a so-called “farm-to-fork” policy, which calls for meats and poultry to undergo as little processing as possible between the animal’s slaughter and when it arrives in grocery stores. This is the case with fresh meats, but not meat contained in ready-made meals, like lasagna or pizza. The European Parliament is considering mandatory labels of a meat’s country of origin on these products. Germany is the main opponent of importing U.S. poultry and meat, because some American chicken is washed in chlorine.

Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in March that the security of food within the European Union is “under attack” in TTIP negotiations and called for a ban of all U.S. processed meats.

The U.S. House of Representatives opposes food labeling. In June, lawmakers voted 300-131 to repeal country-of-origin labels on beef, pork, and chicken sold in the United States. The Senate is currently considering a bill that would allow U.S. manufacturers to voluntarily label country-of-origin on products containing American meat.

Photo Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

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