Does red meat cause cancer? Maybe not.

Dive Brief:

  • Data that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced last October about whether red and processed meats can actually cause cancer may now be in question. 
  • Of the 800 studies the IARC screened, experts considered less than 6% of the database as sufficiently useful to determine a link between meat and colorectal cancer.
  • Studies completed using the same data sets yielded different results, including that red meat may actually decrease the relative risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Dive Insight:

The WHO's link of red and processed meats to cancer sent a shockwave through the industry late last year. In an official statement, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) called the claim a "dramatic and alarmist overreach" that "defies both common sense and numerous studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer and many more studies showing the many health benefits of balanced diets that include meat."

Similar sentiments have echoed announcements from the WHO, FDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that consumers should reduce their sugar intake for health reasons, or that manufacturers must now label added sugar in their products. The American Beverage Association and Sugar Association fought against these changes in the same way NAMI disputed WHO's meat claim.

But it's unclear who has all the answers or if any one entity is entirely right or wrong. When health claims and research could hinder sales, consumers aren't as likely to trust companies or their trade associations. Consumers may perceive them to have a financial interest and bias that could supersede public health concerns. This continues to be a major issue for industry-funded research.

This demonstrates the importance of transparency throughout the research process and reporting of the results. Transparency can illuminate or eradicate real or perceived biases to help consumers make informed food purchase decisions.

Filed Under: Manufacturing Food Safety
Top image credit: Flickr user Phil Denton