WHO announces causal link between consumption of processed meats and cancer.

  • For years, researchers have debated the link between the consumption of red meat and cancer.  For instance, the American Cancer Society’s position is that some studies indicate “a link” between eating red meat and increased risk of colorectal cancer, but the group has not alleged causation.  The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that “moderate evidence” suggested “an association” between increased intake of processed meats and an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  • On October 26, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that, based on a 22-member expert panel’s analysis of more than 800 studies, processed meat (e.g., sausages, bacon) should be classified as “carcinogenic” and red meat should be considered “probably carcinogenic.”  In empirical terms, the WHO’s report states that consuming 50 g of processed meat per day (less than two slices of bacon) increased the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18%.  This conclusion represents the most definitive and aggressive position taken thus far by any health organization in this arena.
  • Meat industry groups will challenge the WHO’s conclusion, particularly in light of the fact that cancer is a complex disease caused by many factors.  It remains to be seen whether and how the WHO’s aggressive position will affect the statements and recommendations of medical and public health groups going forward.