What is IARC and what should I do in my diet?

Nov 17, 2015

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 (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.

What should I do in my diet?

  • The benefits of including meat in a healthy diet are documented and widely accepted. In the IARC report, the findings are based on "theoretical hazards. It makes no sense, nor is it warranted, to reduce any one food--including meat and processed meats--from your diet. We know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and the report simply adds to people's confusion about cancer. It's easy to get caught up in a report or a study. What's important is that the strongest science supports a healthy and balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, from all food groups and in moderation.

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.

Video Podcasts and Webinars

  • Grass or grain? Is there a definitively sustainable beef production system?


    The webinar examined the science relating to grass-fed and grain-fed beef in terms of sustainable... read more »

  • 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Update


    Kris Sollid, Registered Dietitian with the International Food Information Council and Sarah Romo... read more »

  • Meat in the Diet


    read more »

Social Media