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Overview:

  • AMSA Issues FYI: IARC Cancer Risk of Red and Processed Meats
  • What is IARC?
    • The International Agency for Research on Cancer is a part of the United Nations World Health Organization. IARC has evaluated more than 900 chemicals (e.g. formaldehyde), complex mixtures (e.g. air pollution), occupational exposures, physical agents (e.g. solar radiation), biological agents (e.g. hepatitis B virus), and personal habits (e.g. tobacco smoking). A helpful infographic from GMO Answers shows how some substances have been categorized by IARC.
    • IARC does not specialize in food evaluation -the few foods they have evaluated include coffee, pickled vegetables, and salted fish.
    • IARC classifies compounds into four groups based on their interpretation of available scientific evidence for increasing cancer risk in animals and humans. The four classifications are Groups 1, 2A, 2B, 3, and 4, which correspond to decreasing available evidence for cancer risk.
  • What does IARC say about meat?
    • In November 2014, IARC announced it would evaluate the carcinogenicity of red and processed meats.
    • In October 2015, IARC held an expert panel meeting with 22 participants in Lyon, France. The panel considered the evidence for red and processed meats as possible human carcinogens. Several individuals from the USA served as members on this expert panel and there were six observers from the USA that were selected to participate.
    • IARC findings which were made public this morning (10/26) classified processed meat as a Group 1, carcinogenic to humans, and red meat was classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. The complete monograph defining the full details of the report and the studies it considered will be published in 2016.
      • IARC defines red and processed meats as the following:
        • Red meat refers to unprocessed mammalian muscle meat—for example, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, or goat meat—including minced or frozen meat; it is usually consumed cooked.
        • Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but might also contain other red meats, poultry, offal (eg, liver), or meat byproducts such as blood.

Key Meat Nutrition Facts

  • Meat, including red and processed meat, are an important part of the diet because they are protein-rich foods that supply all nine of the essential amino acids needed for good health.
  • Protein plays an important role in human health and well-being. As nutrient-rich high quality protein foods, red meats can play an important role in helping people meet their essential nutrient needs.
  • Red meat also contains a variety of highly bioavailable nutrients, including heme iron, zinc, and B-vitamins. Red meat is a natural and significant source of a number of B vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6 and B12. Vitamin B12 which is important for healthy red blood cells, growth and the production of energy.
  • Collectively, research shows healthy dietary patterns with a higher percent of calories from protein, including meat protein, than currently recommended in the USDA Food Patterns are associated with positive health outcomes including cardiovascular health, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and composition, and improving vitality and stamina.
    • McNeill, S. H. (2014). Inclusion of Red Meat in Healthful Dietary Patterns. Meat Science. (98): 452-460.

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