An international health agency is investigatng possible links between red meat and cancer, and industry officials are preparing to challenge the findings when they’re released later this year.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — an arm of the World Health Organization — is expected to issue its report in October after beginning efforts to identify the connection between red and processed meats and cancer last year.
Betsy Booren, vice president for scientific affairs for the North American Meat Institute, recently conceded that she believes the agency will link red meat to cancer in some form and characterized the ongoing investigation as “our 12-alarm fire.”
“That moniker will stick around for years,” Booren told an industry conference. “It could take decades and billions of dollars to change that.”
Booren also said that a classification of “possibly carcinogenic to humans” — the IARC’s third-highest on its scale — would likely qualify as a win for the industry.The IARC rates substances from known carcinogens to those unlikely to be carcinogenic. Possible carcinogens include a wide range of common substances, but the classification would still represent a black eye for the industry.The NAMI earlier this year pushed back against recommendations from U.S. officials that Americans curb their consumption of red and processes meats, and Booren said a similar effort would likely follow the IARC finding.
Eating too much red meat has been linked to health problems including heart disease, and various kinds of cancer. In April 2014, the IARC cited studies linking red and processed meats to colorectal, esophageal, lung, and pancreatic cancer, and called determining the connection a “high priority.” Since then, the organization has been collecting information to make their final determination.
Booren indicated her group would fight the classification as it did with the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent report that said healthier diets are lower in red and processed meats. That advice, which was supported by many health experts, caused and uproar in the Meat industry.
Booren said a 2B designation–possibly carcinogenic to humans, would be “a win for our industry.”
Glyphosate was classified as a 2A, “probably carcinogenic to humans.”