WHO Links Processed Meats and Cancer

More stories from Veronica Ung-Kono

College Students Vote In
September 24, 2015

The World Health Organization recently announced that processed meats cause cancer. In putting cold cuts, bacon, and hot dogs under fire, vegetarians have a bit of a reason to laugh.

Making the determination, the WHO agency, International Agency for Research on Cancer, classifies such processed meat products as carcinogenic to humans at the strongest level–a level shared by known carcinogens: tobacco smoke and diesel engine exhaust.

WHO defines processed meats as “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation… Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.”

According to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the North American Meat Institute of Washington D.C. (which is a group that represents  and lobbies for meat and poultry producers) the agency’s findings, “defy both common sense and dozens of studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer and other studies showing the many health benefits of balanced diets that include meat.”

When asked what people can do,  in NPR’s segment Here & Now, Kurt Straif M.D., epidemiologist and section head of IARC Monographs at the International Agency for Research on Cancer of WHO stated, “Well, you need to understand that this is an evaluation of what we call the hazard that answers the question if some exposures can in principle cause cancer in humans. The next step is then the assessing how much increase there is. And we know from the studies on the processed meat that you see about a 17 percent increase in risk of colorectal cancer per daily portion of 50 grams of processed meat. And the Monographs themselves do not make any recommendation. This is a purely scientific review, but this is then taken forward by national agencies or other international agencies, and if individuals are concerned they can, right now, stop or reduce eating processed meat.”

The consensus from Le Moyne students demonstrates a repetitious feeling many have on the issue. Amanda Grimme, a sophomore, is not at all surprised by this determination, “My mom switched my family to organic food this past summer. It’s not only the processed meats, but also the antibiotics they feed the animals beforehand. There’s also all the chemicals put on our produce, and I mean microwave popcorn is an automatic no.”

Likewise, Senior, Elaina Hill,  a vegetarian,  is not at all surprised with this announcement.

“I already am aware that packaged meat has chemicals in it to help preserve it,” said Hill. “As a Den worker, I know that a BLT has four slices of bacon. Students should use this information and understand that they cannot eat multiple BLTs in a week. It is up to the students to make healthy choices. Le Moyne does provide these choices but it is up to the student to find them.”

Eating healthy is a problem many college students face. Between debatably high costs of organic food and attempting to find time to eat, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet.

Sophomore, Corey Curran emphasized the pertinence of income in relation to healthy eating, “The most frustrating part of this study is the fact that it is becoming more and more obvious that the most unhealthy and dangerous foods are those that are the cheapest. The poor of society is subjugated to eat cancer causing foods while the wealthy can afford purely organic and healthy foods. This disparity is perpetuating the cycle of poverty, and more must be done on the societal and government level to help the poor afford to eat healthier options.”