The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research agency of the World Health Organization, says it has found “sufficient evidence” that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer in humans.
The agency announced in a statement Monday October 26, 2015, that it has classified processed meat “carcinogenic to humans” after a team of researchers concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.
The agency whose mission is to coordinate and conduct research on human cancer, has also classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on “limited evidence” that its consumption causes cancer in humans.
The 22 researchers, drawn from 10 countries under the IARC Monographs, a research publication of the IARC, found an association between processed meat and cancer of the colon and rectum – the lower parts of the large intestine, and less stronger associations with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
The IARC says the team examined more than 800 studies conducted across the world, on associations between red meat or processed meat, and more than 12 types of cancer.
Processed meat, the IARC explained, refers to meat that has been transformed to preserve it and includes meat products such as sausages, hot dogs, corned beef, beef jerky and canned meat.
“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”, Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme said.
The IARC says now that the results would be central to risk assessments by governments and international regulatory agencies to find a balance between the risks and the nutritional benefits of eating red meat.
In a reaction to the IARC’s announcement, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) described the panel’s conclusion as “dramatic and alarmist”, saying that it defies common sense and the numerous studies that show no association between meat and cancer as well as those that show that meat has health benefits.
A statement issued by the Institute argued that cancer is “a complex disease not caused by single foods” and the theoretical hazard found is not enough to draw conclusions. especially as sunlight, wine, coffee, aloe vera and grilled food are among the 940 agents that have been found to be hazardous by IARC.
“IARC’s decision simply cannot be applied to people’s health because it considers just one piece of the health puzzle: theoretical hazards. Risks and benefits must be considered together before telling people what to eat, drink, drive, breathe, or where to work,” Dr Betsy Booren, NAMI’s Vice President of Scientific Affairs said
She also accused the panel, saying that “they tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome” without giving room for mediating elements.
By Emmanuel Odonkor