The World Health Organization (WHO) has finally said what many already knew: red meat causes colon cancer. They say the evidence for processed meat is “strong,” classifying it as “carcinogenic [cancer causing] to humans.” The evidence for ordinary red meat was almost as high. They also found evidence linking meat to other cancers including cancer of the stomach, pancreas and prostate.
This comes as no surprise. Scientists have long noticed the association with eating meat and cancer. For instance, Scientific American stated all the way back in January 1892 that “cancer is most frequent among those branches of the human race where carnivorous habits prevail.”
Processed meat is any meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemical preservatives. This puts most of the cold cuts at the supermarket deli counter — such as ham, pastrami, turkey and bologna — into this category, along with bacon, sausage, hot dogs, corned beef, pepperoni, beef jerky as well as canned meat, like Spam.
The WHO report identified several kinds of carcinogens found in meat that are produced either by processing or cooking. In addition to these, many scientists have found that carcinogenic chemicals used in agriculture such as pesticides and herbicides, along with industrial pollutants such PCB’s and dioxin, tend to greatly concentrate in the meat tissues of livestock and make their way onto our dinner plate.
Although this study didn’t focus on other meats such as poultry, it should be noticed that they often have levels even higher than in red meat. For instance chicken has even higher levels of HCAs, the carcinogens produced by cooking meat, than beef does.
As we reported recently, much research has also been done into the relationship between breast cancer and diet, with the conclusion that a plant-based diet helps reduce the risk in several important ways.
While we’re grateful that the relationship between meat and cancer is finally being acknowledged publicly, we hope that it’s not too much longer before they also point out the risks of certain cancers from consuming other animal products too.