On Oct. 26, 2015, a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regarding red meat and processed meat was published in the London-based medical journal The Lancet Oncology. The full text is available online.
IARC is part of the World Health Organization, and conducts reviews of various products and substances to determine if they pose a cancer hazard. These items are then “ranked” into one of the following categories:
Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans
Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans
Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Group 3: Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity in humans
Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans
The IARC chose to classify processed meat in Group 1, carcinogenic to humans, and red meat was classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. It is important to note, however, that IARC does not compare the level of cancer risk associated with products in a given category. So, for example, the classification as a carcinogen does not suggest that processed meats present a hazard level comparable to smoking.
The meat industry has been monitoring the IARC process carefully and was well-prepared to respond to the report. The Beef Checkoff Program, Pork Checkoff, North American Meat Institute and International Meat Secretariat provided information that proved very helpful to USMEF in preparing its international staff for media inquiries or concerns expressed by customers.
Media coverage of the IARC report in key international markets was similar to the coverage in the United States – mostly balanced, but with some unfortunate headlines appearing to compare the risk of consuming processed meat with smoking and other cancer hazards. Several government health agencies, cancer research institutes and other independent voices downplayed the report, reaffirming the message that meat is an appropriate and important element in a balanced diet. In no instance did media outlets attempt to single out meat of U.S. origin or grain-fed meat for criticism.
Based on media coverage to date and the reaction from consumers and industry partners, USMEF does not expect the IARC report to have a dramatic impact on customer demand or on the overall image of U.S. meat products in the international marketplace. However, the issue is still a concern for exporters and processors in some markets. USMEF continues to monitor the situation carefully and we are prepared to address any further developments or requests for information on this issue.