‘Red meat causes bowel cancer’
WHO’s International Agency for Research on disease is expected to announce concerns next month
EATING just a steak or two a week could give you cancer, World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists are expected to announce next month.
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is forecast to make the bombshell ruling after scientists meet in France to discuss the matter.
British farmers and food manufacturers are bracing themselves for the decision, which they fear will devastate the industry. The IARC evaluates different substances according to their cancer risk, ranking them in one of five groups. Group 1 is ‘carcinogenic to humans’; 2A is ‘probably carcinogenic’; 2B ‘possibly carcinogenic’; 3 ‘not classifiable’ and 4 ‘probably not carcinogenic’.
The IARC has so far evaluated 982 substances – and found only one to be ‘probably not carcinogenic’. Of the remaining 981, it has found 117 to be carcinogenic, 74 probably carcinogenic and 287 possibly carcinogenic.
The other 503 it found to be not classifiable. The meat industry is fearing the worst because the 22-member IARC panel will look at recently published studies which have suggested that there is a link between consuming lots of red or processed meat and bowel cancer risk. The disease, Britain’s second-biggest cancer killer, claims 16,000 lives a year.
In 2011, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published a report, which found that people who ate a lot of these meats were more likely to get bowel cancer.
The Department of Health subsequently issued guidelines advising people to limit their consumption of red and processed meat to just 70 grams a day – or roughly 500g a week.
Insiders believe the IARC is considering setting the bar even lower – by saying that eating any more than 300g a week could be a cancer risk.
This is about the size of a large steak. The meat industry is also concerned because many of the panel members have been associated with studies suggesting a link. Dr. Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist to the United Kingdom (UK’s) Meat Advisory Panel, said: ‘I hope that the panel members give the matter the objectivity it deserves.’
She added: “A recent update of the Epic study (European Prospective Investigation of Cancer) found vegetarians had the same risk of bowel cancer as meat eaters, when averaged out.”
An IARC spokesman said: “We can understand why the meat industry would be concerned but the meeting has not taken place and no decision has been made. It is impossible to say what the outcome will be at this time.”
Sheep farmer Charles Sercombe, chairman of the National Farmers’ Union’s livestock board, said: “The impact on farming would be devastating if any link was categorically proven. But I don’t believe that is the case – and with science there’s always two ways of reading the results.”