What’s cooking? Meat industry seeks to prove red meat doesn’t cause cancer | TheFencePost.com

What’s cooking? Meat industry seeks to prove red meat doesn’t cause cancer

Carrie Stadheim | For Tri-State Livestock News
Cattle producers work to make sure their animals are healthy and well-fed. They don’t hesitate to feed their families the product they raise. That’s why they’re trying to make sure all dietary claims related to beef are founded on real science, rather than supposition and suspicion. Photo by Kim Hofmann, Red Cow Photography.
Kim Hofmann |

2015 IARC Advisory Group

Frederick A. Beland

Division of Biochemical Toxicology

National Center for Toxicological Research

Jefferson, Arkansas


Hermann M. Bolt

Leibniz Research Centre for Working

Environment and Human Factors

Technical University of Dortmund


John R. Bucher

National Institute of Environmental Health

Sciences (NIEHS)



Vincent Cogliano

Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)

National Center for Environmental


U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency

Washington DC


Min Dai

(unable to attend)

National Cancer Center of China

Cancer Hospital

Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences



David DeMarini

Department of Environmental Science

and Engineering

University of North Carolina


Prakash C. Gupta

Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health

Great Eastern Chambers

CBD Belapur

Navi Mumbai


Kirsti Husgafvel-Pursiainen

Biological Mechanisms and Prevention

of Work-Related Diseases

Health and Work Ability

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health


Robert J. Kavlock

National Center for Computational Toxicology

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Research Triangle Park, NC


Manolis Kogevinas

Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL)

Municipal Institute of Medical Research




Gérard Lasfargues

French Agency for Food, Environment and

Occupational Health Safety (ANSES)



Ruth M. Lunn

Report on Carcinogens Center

National Toxicology Program

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Research Triangle Park, NC


John McLaughlin

Dalla Lana School of Public Health

University of Toronto

Toronto, ON


Christopher J. Portier

[retired] (Chair)

National Center for Environmental Health and

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Atlanta, GA


Luis Felipe Ribeiro Pinto

Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA)

Rio de Janeiro


Edgar Rivedal

Norwegian Scientific Committee for

Food Safety



Spaghetti with meatballs, sloppy joes, ribeye steak, beef stew, hot dogs, fast food burgers; should those foods be grouped with asbestos, formaldehyde, hepatitis B and C, and other substances and diseases known to cause cancer?

That’s the question the World Health Organization is asking.

So, is taking a bite of your favorite steak off the grill akin to lighting up a cigarette?

The WHO’s cancer research arm announced last spring that they will be looking into the possibility that red meat and processed meats are carcinogenic agents.

“Our hope is that if the full body of science is examined that neither will be listed because we don’t think it’s warranted. But it’s hard to predict the future.”Janet Riley Senior vice president of public affairs, North American Meat Institute

“I’m deadly serious,” Mark Dopp said in a Meatingplace story. The senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel for the North American Meat Institute, told a group of processors, “A great deal of work needs to be done to fend this off.”

A total of 52 items or activities, including chlorinated drinking water, sugar-sweetened beverages, coffee, obesity, six different types of pesticides, aspartame, job stress, and red and processed meats are “agents to be evaluated with high priority,” in the next five years, according to an International Association for Research on Cancer report.

The cancer research arm of the WHO put out the internal report in April of last year following a meeting in France and had this to say on red and processed meats:

“Red and processed meats are consumed as food worldwide. Several meta-analyses have reported a small but mostly statistically significant elevated risk of colorectal cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat. In general, risks remain elevated in subgroup analyses by study design, sex and studies controlling for specific confounders. Some studies suggested an association between increased risk of cancers of the oesophagus, lung and pancreas with the consumption of red meat, and increased risk of cancers of the lung, stomach and prostate with the consumption of processed meat. There was also a large database evaluating cooking methods of meat and cancer risk where cooking methods may help explain the increased risk observed for consumption of red or processed meats. Cooking meat at a high temperature forms carcinogenic heterocyclic amines and PAHs. Mechanistic studies provide support for the potential carcinogenicity of meats cooked at high temperatures. Providing information on potential factors such as cooking methods that may affect cancer risk may be more useful to the public than an evaluation of only red meat or processed meats.”

The advisory group that discussed and settled on the items to research is made up of 21 people from around the world, including eight from the U.S.

Andrew L. Milkowski, a doctorate researcher with the University of Wisconsin’s animal science department, said the group is assembling a research team to look at red meat and processed meat. They put out a call for applicants earlier this winter. The opportunity closed in February but the research team members have not yet been announced.

Milkowski said that research team will accept studies and other information between now and September.

“It’s not likely that any new research will be able to be completed between now and then,” he said.

But past research can be compiled and submitted for the committee’s consideration.

The North American Meat Institute plans to do that, said Janet Riley, NAMI’s senior vice president of public affairs.

“What we can do is be sure we have the best available research and be sure they have it,” she said.

Riley said NAMI believes research shows red meat and processed meats are healthy.

“We will be providing it to them to be sure they’ve got what we believe is strong evidence for the safety and nutrition of red and processed meat,” she said.

The studies will likely not be the typical agricultural meat studies conducted in land grant university animal science laboratories but rather analyses of human health, published peer review papers and the like.

Cattle producers should “stay active, stay alert,” with their local cattle organizations, she suggested.

“This isn’t the place where a letter-writing campaign will have an impact. I think we need to watch the issues closely. At this point, it’s a high priority for all associations representing meat, not just in the U.S. but globally,” she said.

Linda Chezum, nutrition committee chairman for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, agreed that producers should be paying close attention.

“I hope cattle producers will get busy and read about this,” she said.

The Indiana cattle producer fears “anyone with common sense will walk away shaking their head.”

Chezum said while it is not necessarily the view of her organization, she personally worries that the research is being promoted by the “anti red meat” animal rights agenda. An attorney and a professor at Purdue University who teaches a class on animal ownership law, she is familiar with the issue.

Riley said it is possible the committee would find just red meat or just processed meat as a carcinogen, and not the other. Either item could land on any of the five groups the organization uses to classify different kinds of carcinogens.

“Our hope is that if the full body of science is examined that neither will be listed because we don’t think it’s warranted. But it’s hard to predict the future,” Riley said.

Lumping red meat and processed meats together isn’t necessarily logical, Chezum said, since processed meats are often made of poultry or even fish products.

Thirty billion dollars per year are spent by the U.S. government’s 28 institutes for health research focused on aging, cancer, genetics, etc., Chezum said.

“The tip of the emerging research is understanding the genetic basis for cancers,” she said.

Those with similar genetic makeup generally share common cultural traditions – and the same dinner meal – she pointed out, so determining whether cancer was caused by a food item, an environmental issue or genetics can be tough.

Studying one food item individually is difficult, Chezum pointed out.

“I’m not sure how they screen out the effects of other foods,” she said.

In reference to the IARC’s statement that cooking methods of meat may need to be looked at, Chezum expressed concern there is not enough accurate research available.

“As you travel around the world and look at various cultures, there are so many different cooking methods. In certain parts of the world, they gather animal dung to burn and cook their food.

“They have to match the cooking of the food to the person’s genetic makeup and whatever their risk factors are,” she said.

Another point of contention regarding cooking methods is this: why single out red and processed meats?

“We like to burn our marshmallows over the campfire. Are they carcinogenic? People grill chicken and fish. I grill potatoes,” Chezum said.

Milkowski said he’s worried one or both items will be deemed cancerous.

While he trusts the committee will “do a systematic job of looking for literature relevant to the topic,” he worries about pre-conceived notions.

“If things get to the stage of a review, my feeling is that they have a bias toward listing something as a carcinogen. I don’t know what evidence they will have but given the tone of the organization and the people at IARC that administer this, that is my general feeling,” he said.

A representative from the World Health Organization could not be reached for comment. ❖

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