Bacon lovers worldwide shook in their boots last week, as the World Health Organization revealed some “shocking” findings on the correlation between processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer.
The cancer research arm of the WHO, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans”, effectively casting it off to join the ranks of tobacco, formaldehyde and arsenic among others. The agency found that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by a whopping 18%.
The IARC went on to deem red meat, which includes beef, lamb and pork, as “probably carcinogenic to humans” having shown significant associations with colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
Anyone even remotely interested in health and nutrition will know that the link between the consumption of animal products and disease is nothing new, having been underscored numerous times by books like “The China Study” and “The Engine2 Diet” as well as documentaries like “Forks Over Knives“. Yet, there’s no denying that such a damning and clear-cut statement made by a leading and well-respected entity like the WHO is a massive step forward.
Or is it?
As a proponent of plant-based nutrition for health, reading the headline initially made me beam with joy. “Finally!” I thought “a legitimate, fact based study highlighting the detrimental effects of meat targeted to the masses.” But upon further inspection in the days that followed, my enthusiasm started to wane.
First of all, the language used in the statement bothered me greatly. Use of terms like “probably carcinogenic” and overly diplomatic quotes from IARC representatives seemed to have an unfortunate minimizing effect on the gravity of the findings.
Secondly, the public reaction to the statement was, as you can imagine, quite explosive, sparking days of headlines warning about the dangers of hot dogs and bacon and many a social media rant. Many also started comparing the risks associated with meat eating with those of smoking cigarettes – a comparison which I find absolutely bizarre.
Infographics like this one made their way across social media in a pathetic attempt to prove that red meat is indeed the lesser of two cancer-causing evils.
So pronounced was the public outcry at the news, that the WHO released a follow-up clarification statement, pointing out that the report issued last week “does not ask people to stop eating processed meats” but rather “that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.”
Needless to say, I was hardly impressed. While the clarification was intended to highlight that not all known carcinogens are equally dangerous, the mere act of releasing a second statement seemed completely unnecessary not to mention undermining of their own authority. In the days that followed, countless articles sprung up online touting the tiresome “everything in moderation” mantra, along with asinine lists of “which meats you should eat”.
I suppose the real disappointment here is the lengths to which the people are willing to go to in order to justify a treat for the tastebuds. While I’m well aware of the cultural attachment we have to food, and that eating meat (or eschewing it) is a truly personal choice, I cannot stand by and watch the media bow down to food politics and wildly misrepresent the facts.
An article posted on TIME.com states: “fresh meat that wasn’t mentioned directly by the agency is non-processed poultry and fish. Meats like fresh chicken and turkey have long been recommended as good sources of protein, and options to replace red or processed meat in the diet.”
Never mind the fact that chickens bred for meat are arguably the most genetically manipulated of all factory farmed animals, growing 65 times faster than nature intended, or that the majority of chickens sent for slaughter are infected with Salmonella, Campyloblacter, E coli and a whole host of other bacteria that are the primary cause behind food-borne illnesses. What of the fact that modern day chilling methods involve soaking dead chickens in a communal pool teeming with feces as a result of fecal contamination before they’re wrapped up and sent to supermarkets (fun fact – factory farms in the United States prefer water-chilling over air-chilling as it increases the weight of the carcasses. Every year the industry turns wastewater into tens of millions of dollars’ worth of additional weight in poultry products). Sounds pretty healthy, don’t you think?
The article on TIME goes on to note that although your Christmas ham might be off limits, the quintessential Thanksgiving turkey is in the clear.
A relief to many, I’m sure. Forget that the vast majority of commercially available Turkey birds have been so genetically modified that they are physically incapable of reproducing and are plagued with serious health problems that have been bred into their genes in the process of engineering them.
The long and short of it is that there is enough substantiated data and information readily available out there that points to the grave dangers of the consumption of all animal products. Meat and dairy lobbyists are fighting hard to keep that information under wraps, but I firmly believe that the truth will be revealed with time. As the demand for factory farmed meat grows at an alarming rate worldwide, health standards and animal rearing practices will only worsen – and I think that the public deserves to know a hell of a lot more about what’s lurking inside their food.