How Red Meat Joined the 478 Other Things That Might Give You Cancer

  • 2015-11-02
  • Bloomberg Business

Eating processed meats causes cancer, and red meat probably increases cancer risks. That’s the judgment of a panel of global experts assembled by the World Health Organization to consider the accumulated scientific evidence on the question. Eating an extra 50 grams daily of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, the WHO said today. While the overall risk is small, it "increases with the amount of meat consumed,” the organization said. But what does it mean to say processed meat causes cancer?

We’ve all grown wary of headlines that proclaim wine or chocolate to be bad for you one week and good for you the next. The World Health Organization’s announcement is the opposite of that. Independent scientists from academia and government considered the research on red meat for six months before meeting for a week in Lyon, France, to render a decision. The panel included researchers from four continents who were vetted for potential conflicts of interest. They gathered and evaluated evidence from years of epidemiological studies, animal experiments, and other sources.

The red meat study is just the latest of many that WHO has conducted since the 1970s, when it set out to identify and catalogue suspected carcinogens. The organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has evaluated 984 agents, from chemicals to careers, that can be linked to cancer.