by SUSAN MANN
It’s too early to tell if Canadian consumers will shun red and processed meats now that the World Health Organization has concluded that consumption of those foods increases risk of cancer in humans, say meat commodity organization spokespeople.
In an Oct. 26 news release, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, says its experts concluded eating 50 grams of processed meat daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent and 100 grams of red meat daily increases risk by 17 per cent. Based in France, the IARC’s mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer and develop scientific strategies to control the disease.
However, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association technical services director Mark Klassen says they’re not expecting any major change in Canadians’ buying and consumption of red and processed meats.
“Once people have a chance to think about things and apply it to their circumstance, they come to a very balanced perspective,” he explains. “I think overall most Canadians appreciate there’s a right amount of something and we need to follow Canada’s Food Guide,” and average Canadian consumption falls within its guidelines.
Canadian Pork Council nutrition manager Mary Ann Binnie says Canadians eat an average of 52 grams of fresh red meat and 22 grams of processed red meat daily. Those two combined are about one serving from the meats and alternatives category of Canada’s Food Guide. The Cattlemen’s Klassen notes the Food Guide encourages Canadians to eat as much as three servings.
“We’re not eating at the level that (colorectal cancer) would be concerning,” Binnie asserts.
Mary Jane Quinn, Ontario Pork communications and consumer marketing manager says “We can’t speculate on if this announcement will impact sales of meat at retail. “Obviously, we hope not.”
Daphne Nuys-Hall, Ontario Independent Meat Processors Association technical director, says “it’s a little early to tell what the ramifications of this report will be.”
Some people may buy less red and processed meats because of the IARC’s conclusions, she says. “Those might be persons who already may have exhibited concerns with the consumption of red meats.”
Some spokespeople say the scientific evidence linking red/processed meat consumption and cancer is conflicting.
Nuys-Hall says, “there are other reports out in the scientific community that actually speak to the fact that red and processed meats do not cause cancer.”
Furthermore, “there has been no cause and effect relationship established between red meat and processed meat and cancer,” she notes. “The evidence says it (red and processed meat) is a potential hazard.” The report doesn’t address what the likelihood is that eating red and processed meat may cause cancer in an individual.
Klassen says if something can cause cancer, that’s one thing but the probability that it will cause the disease is another thing.
“The committee that was convened to come up with this (IARC) report didn’t reach a unanimous decision,” Binnie notes.
That just shows how complex cancer is, she says. “There is no research that indicates one single food, including red and processed meat, can cause or cure any type of cancer.”
The American Society of Oncology estimates a person with an average risk of colorectal cancer has about a five per cent chance of developing the colorectal cancer overall. Eating 100 grams of red meat daily would increase the risk of colorectal cancer by slightly less than one per cent, the Cattlemen’s release says, noting if there is an increase in the potential risk, it’s small.
Binnie says in some cases, “these international reports do a disservice because it doesn’t apply to everyone and there are segments of the population (young women and women of child bearing age) who are under-consuming red meats, and that’s a concern.”
Red meats provide high quality protein for growth, development and cell maintenance/ repair, along with B vitamins, iron and zinc, she explains. “There definitely is a role for red meat in a healthy, balanced diet.”
Quinn agrees, noting “even the IARC does recognize the importance of red meat and that is has nutritional value in the diet.”
As part of IARC’s work, 22 experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies investigating the associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with consumption of red and processed meats, the agency’s release says. The experts concluded red meat probably causes cancer in humans, mainly colorectal but also pancreatic and prostrate cancer.
Red meat was put into a grouping of 75 other agents, which includes, controversially, the weed spray glyphosate where the IARC says there is convincing evidence the agent causes cancer in laboratory animals and some indications it could cause cancer in humans. But the human link is not conclusive, according to IARC documents on its website.
Red meat was defined as muscle cuts of beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat. Processed meat was classified as causing cancer in humans and put in the same grouping as 118 other agents that the IARC lists as cancer-causers, such as tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes. Examples of processed meat include hot dogs, ham, sausages, bacon, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat and meat-base preparation and sauces.
Binnie sees a silver lining in the report. She says it gives people an opportunity to assess their diets. According to Health Canada, 22 per cent of the calories in the average Canadian diet come from foods “that aren’t even in the Food Guide” and are devoid of nutrients, such as salty snacks, candy and sugary beverages, she explains. BF