On Monday, new recommendations from a panel of independent experts (NutriRECS https://nutrirecs.com/about/) say that most people can continue to consume red and processed meat at their average current consumption levels. We asked nutritional epidemiologist Marji McCullough, ScD RD, about the new recommendations, and why they might differ from those created by the American Cancer Society and other health organizations, which recommend limiting consumption of red and processed meat.
Addendum Oct. 4, 2019: The New York Times reports that the lead author of the research failed to disclose past research ties to the meat and food industry. https://nyti.ms/2AJYWcq
“It is important to recognize that this group reviewed the evidence and found the same risk from red and processed meat as have other experts. So they’re not saying eating red and processed meat is less risky; they’re saying the risk that everyone agrees on is acceptable for individuals. This seems to be in part because they considered people’s values and preferences in making these recommendations. It’s kind of like saying: we know helmets can save lives, but some people still prefer the feeling of the wind in their hair when they ride bikes. And let’s face it, most people won’t crash. But everyone agrees you should wear a helmet when bike riding, because public health recommendations are based on their effects on the population.
“Indeed, when making recommendations public health organizations consider the full impact of an exposure on population health. So, applying the author’s own calculations of individual risk difference to the general population, we calculated that cutting back on red and processed meats could prevent 8,000 cancer deaths over the lifetime of 1,000,000 people.
“In making our dietary guidelines on red and processed meat consumption, the American Cancer Society considers evidence reviewed by scientific expert panels from global health organizations. This evidence is primarily from prospective, observational studies that have shown consistent, dose-response relationships of higher consumption with increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as mechanistic studies. While a long-term randomized trial of red and processed meat intake and cancer risk may provide support for the observational studies, it is unlikely that a trial of that nature would ever be conducted for practical and ethical reasons.
“A 2015 World Health Organization review of the evidence concluded that processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen and unprocessed red meat is a probable (Group 2a) carcinogen based on the evidence for colorectal cancer. Systematic literature reviews from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research conclude that the evidence that processed meat increases colorectal cancer risk is “convincing” and that red meat increases colorectal cancer risk is “probable.” Therefore, the American Cancer Society continues to recommend limiting consumption of processed meat, as well as red meat, in order to save lives from cancer.”