As is the American way, grillmasters will cook up pound after pound of juicy burgers, hotdogs, steaks, and shish kabobs this weekend. But before you dig in, you’ll have to wade through incessant claims that meat may be linked to health problems, including cancer. But don’t fret: Food scares for omnivores don’t have a lot of-well, meat-on their bones.
In May, coinciding with World Vegetarian Week, the UK-based World Cancer Research Fund released a report claiming that meat, especially red meat and processed meat, is linked to a higher risk of some cancers.
This isn’t the first WCRF report making a claim like this. The group released similar warnings in 2007, but that report came under withering fire from expert reviewers.
Among other things, scientists found that the WCRF inflated red meat-related cancer risks by a factor of seven. The report employed criteria that were “inconsistent” with “established scientific guidelines.” It omitted 13 studies involving 1.6 million people, and 11 of those studies found no significant association between cancer and red meat consumption.
In fact, the 2007 WCRF report ignored the single largest research investigation into potential links between meat and cancer. (That study found that there weren’t any.)
Three years later, the WCRF claimed there was a “convincing” connection between red and processed meats and cancer. But the only thing that’s truly convincing about the scientific literature is that there is no convincing trail of evidence.
For instance, the WCRF says its analysis of published research shows that eating red and processed meat increases your colorectal cancer risk by 16 percent. But 7 of the 9 studies the WCRF cites don’t actually support that conclusion.
Meanwhile, a British study that followed 63,550 adults throughout the 1990s found that vegetarians showed a 39-percent higher rate of colorectal cancer than meat eaters. (Where’s the “don’t eat tofu” advice?)
British cancer specialist Dr. Karol Sikora recently wrote that “there is still no strong evidence to show that any specific foods really correlate with cancer prevention or its recurrence.” It appears that cancer may be the product of a complex series of interactions between lifestyle, diet, and environment. Merely abstaining from jerky probably won’t make a difference.
But good luck trying to sell the animal rights movement on the idea of looking before we take anti-meat dietary leaps. Vegetarianism is the animal movement’s highest sacrament — science be damned.
And spotting anti-meat ideologues isn’t always as easy as looking for a PETA logo. The deceptively named “Humane Society” of the United States (which, curiously, doesn’t run a single pet shelter) also touts anti-meat rhetoric, as does another stealth animal rights group, called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Less than 10 percent of this group’s membership graduated from medical school, making its credibility as a mainstream medical group somewhat laughable.
This dubious “Physicians Committee” even runs its own shameful “Cancer Project” group. Its sole aim seems to be convincing Americans that eliminating meat, eggs, and dairy products from their diets is the best way to prevent cancer. This is an organization that compares hot dogs to cigarettes and pushes for cancer warnings on grilled chicken.
There’s nothing inherently bad about a “plant-based diet” if that’s your preference. But don’t let animal rights wing-nuts convince you that there’s no room on a healthy dinner plate for both meat and veggies. Peppers and onions add nice flavor to kabobs, and broccoli makes a fantastic side dish for steak. Can’t we all just get along?
At the end of the day, buffalo wings won’t raise your blood pressure the way exaggerated health scares can. Per capita meat consumption is 50 percent higher today than it was in 1950. Americans’ life expectancy has increased significantly since then as well.
The chance of dying of colorectal cancer in the United States in any given year is 17-thousandths of one percent. Even if “the latest studies” were right, is eliminating the best parts of a bacon cheeseburger a fair price to pay for reducing your risk to just 16-thousandths of one percent?
You decide. But most of your friends and neighbors will say “pass the ketchup.”