News Bite: IARC "Clarifies" Report About Potential Carcinogenicity of Red and Processed Meat

report Oct. 26 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), regarding red and processed meat lit up the news and social media. But just three days later, WHO issued a "clarification" that received far less attention.

Many headlines in prominent outlets had proclaimed that consumption of red and processed meat was on par with cigarette smoking in terms of the associated rick of cancer. (IARC deemed processed meat such as bacon, hot dogs and sausages as "carcinogenic to humans" and red meat including beef, pork and lamb a "probable" carcinogen as risk factors for colorectal cancer.) 

In reality, the report assessed the strength of the evidence regarding a potential link to cancer. But the difference in the severity of the risks, however, is vastly different. While cigarette smoking increases the risk of early death by some 2,000 percent, IARC projected the risk of developing cancer from a daily diet of red or processed meat increases by only 1 percentage point.

IARC's clarification states, in part:

“WHO has received a number of queries, expressions of concern and requests for clarification following the publication of a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) relating to processed meat and colorectal cancer. [ … ]

“IARC’s review confirms the recommendation in WHO’s 2002 'Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases' report, which advised people to moderate consumption of preserved meat to reduce the risk of cancer. The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.” [emphasis added]

You can read more about the topic, including expert perspectives, here.