You no doubt noticed that new report from UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that red meat causes cancer.
But even before the IARC report was released, the North American Meat Institute had a statement ready to go: "IARC Meat Vote Is Dramatic and Alarmist Overreach," the headline read.
"IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don't breathe air," the group added, referring to an IARC report that found air pollution can cause cancer.
That may sound like pure PR-ese, but the fact is that NAMI has representation on the IARC panel and was a party to the proceedings.
“It was clear sitting in the IARC meeting that many of the panelists were aiming for a specific result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data," said Betsy Booren, Ph.D., NAMI vice president of scientific affairs. “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.”
She noted that cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and that a healthy lifestyle is the key to maintaining good health. More importantly, cancer risk exists on a sliding scale, a concept that NAMI’s statement explained quite elegantly.
“IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (Class I carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (Class I), apply aloe vera (Class 2B) if you get a sunburn, drink wine or coffee (Class I and Class 2B), or eat grilled food (Class 2A),” the statement read.
Of course, for all the demonization of “processed meats,” the vaunted Mediterranean diet actually includes plenty of those same processed meats. And the populations who actually live in the Mediterranean countries - such as Spain, Italy and France - have some of the longest lifespans in the world and overall high levels of health.”
A media disconnect
That’s a powerful argument, one that will probably convince a few of the shrinking slice of the population that hasn’t already made up its mind on whether or not to eat red meat. But here’s the best part of this story: The anti-industry activists are getting minimal traction with their predictable response to this report.
Here’s how PETA responded.
“Since the World Health Organization confirms that eating bacon, hot dogs, ham, and other processed meats causes cancer, PETA is offering a free vegan starter kit and a personal vegan mentor to anyone ready to ward off cancer as well as a slew of other health issues by going vegan.”
There wasn’t exactly a stampede among the media to endorse the opportunity to acquire a personal vegan mentor.
Perhaps the general media sentiments were best captured by the headline at MSNBC.com:
“Glee, Panic, and Yawns: U.S. Reacts to Report on Meat and Cancer”.
With the emphasis on yawns ... Notice that the reliably liberal MSNBC writers didn’t even bother to phrase the headline as “meat causes cancer,” as some other media outlets did. It’s just another (yawn) report alleging that eating the very foods that have been made, sold and consumed for centuries are now – suddenly – carcinogenic.
How come there wasn’t a cancer epidemic in the 18th and 19th centuries? The public was treated to pickled meat soaked in brine; slated beef stored in barrels; all kinds of smoked products that had way more of the additives alleged to be so dangerous than do contemporary processed meats. If processed red meats were truly carcinogenic, why weren’t Americans dropping dead by the millions back when vegetarianism didn’t even exist?
Don’t expect PETA to answer that question.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.