The World Health Organization has issued a statement of clarification of the significance of its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report on the increased risk for colorectal cancer from eating processed and red meat (see my post on this).
The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
The New York Times explains the meaning of this increased risk. To understand it, you need to know the risk of colorectal cancer among people who never eat processed or red meat.
The main problem with the public health messages put out by the W.H.O. is that the agency did a poor job of explaining what its risk-ranking system really means…it’s based only on the strength of the overall research, not on the actual danger of a specific product…Even the most strident anti-meat crusader knows that eating bacon is not as risky as smoking or asbestos exposure. Smoking raises a person’s lifetime risk of developing lung cancer by a staggering 2,500 percent. Meanwhile, two daily strips of bacon, based on the associations identified by the W.H.O., would translate to about a 6 percent lifetime risk for colon cancer, up from the 5 percent risk for people who don’t enjoy bacon or other processed meats.
My interpretation: Can processed and red meats be included in healthful diets? Yes, of course. But for many reasons, people and the planet would be healthier if these foods were consumed in smaller portions, less often.