Meat will kill you … according to scientists

It sounds familiar - a panel of scientists from the World Health Organization have decided that meat increases the risk of cancer.

It all sounds familiar but a panel of scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) have decided that eating red and processed meats will increase your risk of getting cancer. As expected media headlines around the world screamed that eating a piece of bacon or a hot dog was guaranteed to kill you and implied that your only hope was to avoid eating red meat all together. That seems curious being the death rate between meat eaters and vegetarians is not all that different. What’s even more annoying to the anti-meat zealots is that human life expectancy has almost doubled over the past 150 years and so has meat consumption. Clearly from that statistical evidence – you live longer if you eat meat. But that’s the point with these crafty scientific exercises its all about twisting the figures to make your case. Then the authors use suggestive weasel words which tend to be purposefully subjective knowing full well that the media will interpret them into sensational headlines. And Bingo, the report receives much free publicity and the scientists can look forward to more research grants. It sounds cynical but it works.

The report makes the statement that consuming red and processed meats will increase your risk of getting colon cancer by 18 per cent. It appears ominous but the figure has been averaged and is somewhat arbitrary as it doesn’t differentiate any variables such as age, gender, genetics, diet, lifestyle, geography, and socio-economic conditions amongst many. The authors claim that they examined countless previous studies, but did those reports cover every scientific variable, I expect not. What about the scientists themselves – is there a bias in their research. It’s all relevant because so much scientific research has been debunked over the years. Many readers are aware that most foods have been declared carcinogenic at one time or another, which has caused almost all alleged scientific reports to be greeted with considerable skepticism by the public. Scientists, god bless them, don’t seem to understand that they are the ones that created such skepticism with their misleading and presumptive research results. The result is that these sensationalized scientific analyses quickly fade from media and public interest.

Another point not clarified in the red meat report, for manipulative reasons I expect, is that as alarming as an 18 per cent increase appears it’s not quite the actual picture. According to overall cancer statistics, Canadians already face an 8 per cent risk factor in acquiring colon cancer. Yes, it’s also averaged but it puts risk into context – if you add the 18 per cent increased risk factor from red meat to the already established 8 per cent, it now comes to 8.4 per cent – hardly more life threatening to the average human. Sure you can torture the data to come up with a higher rate, but it won’t be a lot more. For instance researchers love to drag in data from studies that use rodent models. The usual experimental approach is to give lethal dosages of almost any food substance to a lab rodent to trigger a cancerous response and then extrapolate that into a possible human implication. That’s a research method much loved and abused by zealous self-appointed consumer lobby groups. They use such dubious research and presumptions to make their outrageous claims to further whatever cause of the day they pursuing. I cite the following classic case.

About 10 years ago, a Swedish study implied that eating potato chips and French fries would lead to an early death from acrylamide poisoning and cancer. They cited their research on lab rodents as proof. Acrylamides are a chemical that is created when many foods are fried – not just chips and fries. The amount is miniscule, which is why the human race has not been wiped out by eating fried foods. The problem with the research report was that it did not make clear that the research rodents were basically overdosed with pure acrylamides that would trigger a tumour or cancer response. For humans to absorb the same level of lethal acrylamides as the rodents were subjected to, they would have to consume 60 pounds of potato chips per day for 20 years. Clearly any human consuming such quantities of chips would soon be dead from other causes. Interestingly the World Health Organization (yep, the same one involved in this red meat study) supported the Swedish acrylamide study and wanted even more research done to prove their conclusion. If you have concerns about WHO credibility and its misleading red meat report, you are not alone.