WHO Links Processed Meats to Cancer


In a recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and an announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO), processed meats were linked to certain types of cancer. According to researchers, processed meats such as bacon, ham, and sausage can lead to colon, stomach, or even pancreas cancer.

WHO has listed these types of meats as “carcinogenic to humans,” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Although researchers have long reported that certain kinds of meat should be limited in a weekly diet, the agency has decided to list some of these meats under the same category as tobacco, and even asbestos.

According to CBS News, a leading cancer specialist, Dr. David Agus said the lifetime risk for developing colon cancer from eating a hot dog daily can rise to six percent.  WHO also reported that cooking methods associated with red meat, such as grilling or pan frying can produce certain kinds of chemicals which can also lead to cancer.

Although these reports are not actually new findings, it brings up vital issues dealing with health and diet. For instance, many people living in the U.S. consume processed meats, particularly children. These types of meats can be found in sandwiches, school lunches, breakfast choices, and American barbecue feasts which are notoriously thrown in the summer, such as during the Fourth of July.

Processed meats go through a lengthy journey from slaughterhouse to the factory. Although products such as sausages have used a historic method for butchery, many of these products are made in factories which simply use machinery to produce them. Not only that, such meats often contain preservatives and excessive salts. The cooking method of these products can also produce certain chemicals which have been shown to be toxic to humans.

Despite WHO and other agencies linking processed meats to cancer over past decades, many consumers still choose to eat these types of products. Bacon, for example, has been in the spotlight on social media due to its popularity in its various uses and taste. Besides, how many people really tie their mid-day sandwich or hot dog to the risk of getting colon cancer years from now? Many products on the market have been affiliated with causing cancer that perhaps the real cause may be in the methods used by various kinds of industries and manufacturers.

Gasoline has been associated with causing cancer when inhaled. Certain metals may cause cancer. Glyphosate may cause cancer. The list goes on and on, with no direct link from product to health issue ever reported as the direct cause, except maybe for tobacco. In fact, most experts would probably say that cancer has more to do with genetics and lifestyle than any direct product, with the exception of tobacco.

One may then ask, what are consumers to believe when scientific researchers will not directly list a causation, but only correlations? Are these findings reported to merely warn people who what they consume now may have toxic results decades from now? Thanks for the warning, scientists, but people will most likely take their chances consuming certain foods, versus starving to death.

In the U.S., citizens have a right to decide what they will or will not consume; it is part of the free market. There are laws to protect individuals, and even corporations, but the decision ultimately lies with the consumer. However, although businesses vary in product selection and practices, it is not hard to see that the majority of mainstream products tend to come from notorious suppliers. For food, this can be from Tyson, Foster Farms, Kraft, Nestle, and even McDonald’s.

Although certain states in the U.S. have implemented laws which require products known to cause cancer to carry a warning label, it appears to do little to dissuade consumers from purchasing the product. This could be due to various reasons, including being misinformed, little to no knowledge of said risks, or simply, ignoring the label.

Despite WHO linking processed meats to certain kinds of cancers, consumers ultimately decide whether he or she will purchase a product known to be hazardous to one’s health. The choice, however, might be made according to an individual’s level of knowledge, income, or habits. Children, on the other hand, do not really have an informed choice. Some may need to consume school lunches, or products according to their parent’s income. This may also include other types of processed meats, including chicken nuggets, fish sticks, or corn dogs. Thus, the only way to potentially change a diet from a hazardous one to a healthy one may just be through economics and education.

Opinion By Liz Pimentel

CBS News: WHO: Processed Meat Can Cause Cancer; Red Meat Probably Can

Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo – Flickr License