It all sounds familiar but scientists from a World Health Organization (WHO) agency entitled the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have decided that eating red and processed meats will increase your risk of getting cancer by 18 per cent. As expected sensationalized media headlines screamed that eating bacon or a hot dog will kill you and implied your only hope was to avoid eating red meat. But somewhat unsurprisingly, the feigned media outrage disappeared within a few days, as media stories began to question the credibility of the IARC report. Some noted that the agency reviewed only reports that they approved of, including some that were co-authored by panel members. Therein lies the crux of the matter, the IARC is mandated to review evidence of what causes cancers – not the other way around. Hence any research that questions their approach is dismissed. That has seen the agency issue reports that air, alcohol, sunshine, wine, coffee, fried foods and myriad other products may all be linked to increases in cancer rates. One may conclude that just being born will increase your risk of getting cancer.
What’s obvious is that IARC like other science agencies is prepared to use political correctness to its advantage. For instance red meat (mainly beef) was specifically targeted as it would generate the most interest from a biased media. I cite the following omission in the report; the panel reported that processed meats were the worst offender, however they only looked at processed meats that contain beef or pork. It turns out 40 per cent of the processed meats on the market contain poultry meat. The IARC later admitted that poultry and fish were specifically left out of the review. Being folks probably perceive those products as being allegedly healthier than evil beef and pork products, their inclusion might have affected IARC media sensationalism hopes.
Whenever twisted reports emerge on the evils of meat I like to mention some inconvenient truths. The death rate between meat eaters and vegetarians is not all that different. What’s even more annoying to 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. Sure there are extenuating circumstances to that observation, but then that would also apply to any IARC study as to what actually causes cancers. But that’s the point with scientific exercises its all about twisting the figures to make your case. Scientists are also not above using suggestive weasel words knowing full well that the media will interpret them into sensational headlines. The ulterior goal is for any report to receive maximum publicity that could generate more research grants for the scientists involved. It sounds cynical but it works.
The IARC report states 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. That’s relevant because scientific research has been debunked over the years because it ignores variables that might affect pre-conceived outcomes. Many readers are aware that many foods have been declared carcinogenic at one time or another, which has caused many 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% increase appears it’s not quite the actual picture. According to overall cancer statistics Canadians already face an 8% risk factor in acquiring colon cancer. It’s also averaged but it puts risk into context – if you add the 18% increased risk factor from red meat to the already established 8% it now comes to 8.4% – 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 use data from rodent model studies. The usual experimental approach is to give lethal dosages of a substance to a lab rat to trigger a cancerous or tumour 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 outrageous claims to further whatever cause of the day they are pursuing. I cite the following classic case.
Ten 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 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 study was that it did not make clear that the research rodents were basically overdosed with pure acrylamides that would trigger a 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. It’s no wonder that WHO credibility is starting to get more publicity than any of its misleading food reports. by Will Verboven