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Your Bacon Habit Could Be Giving You Cancer

Sorry, bacon and burger lovers: A panel of experts determined that processed meat causes cancer, and red meat probably does too.
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We can now add bacon, sausage, and ham to the list of delicious things that will probably kill you. Blame the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer for ruining all the fun. On Monday, the agency released a report saying that processed meat causes cancer, and there is a good chance that red meat does too, after evaluating the mountain of research studying the link between meat and cancer.


Cured and processed meats are Level 1 carcinogens, placing your hot dogs and sausages in the same category as tobacco, arsenic, asbestos, and alcohol, the report said. The agency classified all red meat as a Group 2A carcinogen — meaning there is strong, but not conclusive, evidence that it can cause cancer in humans. Scientists found strong evidence that red meat has carcinogenic effect on humans and that processed meat causes cancer.

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The IARC found that consuming 50 grams — a little over 1/10 of a pound — of processed meat daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The panel also found "associations" between meat and pancreatic and prostate cancer.

"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," said Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Program, in a statement. "In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."

The committee, made up of 22 scientists from 10 different countries, evaluated more than 800 studies on the health risks associated with eating red meat.

The findings of the report carry significant weight in the United States, where more than 25 billion pounds of beef are consumed annually and beef exports are valued at $5.7 billion.


The American beef industry rejects the report.

"We simply don't think the evidence support any causal link between any red meat and any type of cancer," Shalene McNeill, executive director of human nutrition at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, told the Washington Post.

The North American Meat Institute said the IARC's study defies "common sense" and that eating meat is actually an essential part of a balanced and healthy diet.

"It was clear sitting in the IARC meeting that many of the panelists were aiming for a specific result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data," said Betsy Booren, NAMI vice president of Scientific Affairs, in a statement responding to the report. "They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome."

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This is hardly the first time that health experts have warned about the health risks of eating processed meat. The IARC began discussing the research a year ago after decades of studies showing a "link" between red meat and cancer. But this is the first time an international body has explicitly identified processed meat as causing cancer and put it in the same carcinogen category as the chemicals contained in products like cigarettes.

The IARC was quick to point out though that cigarettes and red meat do not pose the same harm to humans, but rather their classification is determined by the amount of scientific evidence to support its carcinogenic qualities.

The report did not include any mandates or policy recommendations but was merely intended as a resource for "governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments about the health risks associated with eating red and processed meat."

Photo via Flickr

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