July 23, 2017

Climate Change “Busybodies” May Be Behind Latest Meat-Causes-Cancer Scare

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National Center Risk Analysis Director Jeff Stier and Food Writer Julie Kelly are arguing in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that there may be a climate change-related political activism agenda behind the recent “eating meat causes cancer” scare.

Stier and Kelly argue that the cancer-causing risk of red meat described in the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report has been exaggerated in many news stories.

“First, the report largely addresses only one cancer–colorectal–while making passing mention to other cancers, like stomach and prostate,” say Stier and Kelly in the op-ed. “Yet the evidence linking red meat and colorectal cancer is unconvincing. The authors write that ‘positive associations were seen with high versus low consumption of red meat in half of those studies’–hardly enough conclusive evidence to justify a stern cancer warning. The working group even admits in the same paper that ‘there is limited evidence for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat’ and ‘no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies.’ Despite this, the agency placed red meat in its second-highest risk category, alongside DDT and the human papillomavirus, HPV.”

“The case against processed meat is dubious, too,” say the authors. “According to the IARC report, each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That might sound scary, but the absolute risk is what really matters. As an example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2% of 40-year-olds will develop colorectal cancer over the next 30 years of their lives. What the IARC study suggests is a slightly higher rate–say, 2.4% over 30 years–for those 40-year-olds who tear through a 16-ounce package of bacon every week without fail.”

Yet NBC News, the authors say, ran with headlines such as “Ham, Sausages Cause Cancer; Red Meat Probably Does, Too, WHO Group Says.” Cox Media Group wrote: “Bacon poses same cancer risk as cigarettes, world health group claims.”

What’s worse, all this exaggeration may be in service of a political agenda. The IARC’s parent group, the World Health Organization (WHO), also issued a report calling for national governments to impose policies to deter the purchase of “high-GHG foods” (foods whose production emits a relatively large amount of greenhouse gases, such as meat). WHO recommends that governments impose high taxes on high-GHG foods so people will be less likely to buy them.

Is it a coincidence that the same group calling for high taxes on meat to deter its purchase has now issued a report linking meat to cancer?

Kelly and Stier conclude: “Hang on to your T-bones and sausages, folks.” The climate busybodies are after them.

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