World Health Organization
Press Release No. 240
Lyon, France, 26 October 2015 – The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.
After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the lARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.
This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.
Meat consumption and its effects
The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100% of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.
The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the lARC Monographs Programme. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
The lARC Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. The most influential evidence came from large prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.
“These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says Dr Christopher Wild, Director of lARC. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”
This should not come as a surprise to Seventh-day Adventists who for 150 years have been warned of the dangers of eating flesh meats.
“Flesh meats constitute the principle article of food upon the tables of some families, until their blood is filled with cancerous and scrofulous humors. Testimonies, vol. 3, 563 (1875).
“From the light God has given me, the prevalence of cancer and tumors is largely due to gross living on dead flesh.” Councils on Diet and Foods, 388 (1896).
“People are continually eating flesh that is filled with tuberculosis and cancerous germs. Tuberculosis, cancer, and other fatal diseases are thus communicated.” Ibid (1905).
“Cancers, tumors, and pulmonary diseases are largely caused by meat eating.” The Review and Herald, March 3, 1910.