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May 22, 2013 | 3 minute read

"Unfit for Human Consumption": Processed Meat Science vs. Spin

meat delicaciesWell, it sure got people’s attention, we’ll say that for sure. But is it accurate?

Last week a blog post from an organization called the Institute for Natural Healing picked up on one of the 10 AICR/WCRF Recommendations for the Prevention of Cancer first published back in 2007. That blog post has since gone viral (it’s been shared tens of thousands of times across many different social media platforms), and has attracted the attention of the news media, who have now approached us for comment.

Neither AICR nor our international partners, the World Cancer Research Fund, have any connection to the Institute for Natural Healing, whose website sells “natural” dietary supplements to treat conditions ranging from cancer to heart disease to male potency. (AICR/WCRF’s report and continuous updates have found that when it comes to cancer, it’s better to rely on whole diets, not dietary supplements, to reduce your risk.)

Last week’s INH blog post specifically spotlighted the AICR/WCRF recommendation to avoid processed meat (a category which includes hot dogs, sausage, bacon and cold cuts — for more information, see the AICR Blog post “What is Processed Meat, Anyway?”). That recommendation, at least, is real. It is the conclusion of an independent panel of leading scientists convened by AICR/WCRF who, following the largest, most comprehensive review of international research ever undertaken, judged the evidence that processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer to be convincing. This review was published in 2007 and was subsequently confirmed in 2011.

You can find a full explanation of our recommendation to avoid processed meat on the AICR website. That’s the unavoidable conclusion of the science, and we at AICR stand by it proudly.

Compare our recommendation, however, to the INH blog post that’s been going viral over the past few days, and you see the problem: INH took our science and turned it into spin.

First, they took an existing health recommendation and packaged it as if it were breaking news. Then they added fearmongering phrases like “unfit for human consumption” (they have since updated the post to change the wording to “too dangerous for human consumption”). Eye-catching? Sure. But phrases like that belong to the realm of hygiene and food inspection, not evidence-based nutrition science.

They sensationalize, when what we need to do is inform.

Here’s the real bottom line from AICR, an independent, evidence-based research organization with no agenda but to convey the current state of the research clearly and directly:

Processed meats like hot dogs and bacon are a cause of colorectal cancer. Even small amounts, if eaten regularly, increase the risk. They should not be everyday foods. In fact, we recommend avoiding them.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t enjoy them on special occasions — a ham at Easter, a hot dog at a ball game. Because when it comes to lowering cancer risk, it’s what you do most of the time that matters, not the infrequent indulgence.

4 comments on “"Unfit for Human Consumption": Processed Meat Science vs. Spin

  1. Bob Hardy on

    The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) does NOT declare “Processed Meats Too Dangerous for Human Consumption.”
    The WCRF does declare that the group, (INH – a supplement seller) which started this false story, exaggerated finding in a 2006 AICR-WCRF report.
    WCRF and AICR do NOT want to be associated with INH and other snake oil salesmen.

  2. mb on

    What is the position of the AICR on processed meats that are free of nitrates and nitrites? Does it make a big enough difference to count them as OK? Personally, I’m fine avoiding it altogether, but my husband’s recent words were, “I refuse to live in a house where there isn’t any lunch meat,” but I’ve stood my ground. Is something like Boar’s Head meats a viable alternative?


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