The International Agency for Research on Cancer [which is one of the many tentacles of the World Health Organization which, in its turn, is one of the many tentacles of the United Nations] issued a Press Release [No 240] on 26th October 2015 that suggests “each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.”
Meat consumption and its effects
The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100% of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat
The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
To gain some insight into this claim let’s establish the base risks associated with colorectal cancer.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention very kindly provides statistics for Colorectal Cancer Risk by Age.
The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age and is greater in men than in women.
The tables below show the percentage of men or women (how many out of 100) who will get colorectal cancer over different time periods.
The time periods are based on the person’s current age.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Colorectal Cancer Risk by Age
Source: Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Miller D, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z,Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975–2011, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2011/browse_csr.php?sectionSEL=6&pageSEL=sect_06_table.20.html, based on November 2013 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER Web site, April 2014.
One remarkable aspect of these statistics is that they exclude people under the age of 30 years.
This suggests colorectal cancer is very rare in people below 30 years.
This assumption is reinforced by the data that indicates only 0.07% of the US population will develop colorectal cancer between the ages of 30 and 40 years.
Therefore, according to the experts, the 18% increased risk associated with consuming a 50 gram portion of processed meat every day suggests only 0.0826% of the US population will develop colorectal cancer between the ages of 30 and 40 years.
Similarly, according to the experts, the 180% increased risk associated with consuming a 500 gram portion of processed meat every day suggests only 0.196% of the US population will develop colorectal cancer between the ages of 30 and 40 years.
Another remarkable aspect of these statistics is that the risks of developing colorectal cancer reduces the longer you stay free of colorectal cancer.
A 40 year old man has a 2.04% chance of developing colorectal cancer by the age of 70.
But this risk level reduces to 1.84% if he is free of colorectal cancer at aged 50 and the risk is further reduced to 1.26% if he is free of colorectal cancer at aged 60.
Overall, the statistics suggest 2.00% of males and 1.50% of females will develop colorectal cancer by the time they are 70 years old.
However, by the time you are 70 you are more likely to die [or suffer from some other serious medical condition associated with old age] than develop colorectal cancer.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Death in the United States, 2007
Therefore, it seems the processed meat scare story regurgitated by the legacy lame-stream media is really the least of your worries.
Furthermore, it is doubtful this “expert” claim has any validity because it is based upon a meta-analysis of “the available scientific evidence”.
How is the evaluation carried out?
The evaluation is carried out by a Working Group of independent international experts.
The experts prepare draft documents in advance, based on the available scientific evidence, and subsequently gather for eight days at IARC in Lyon to discuss and finalize their assessment of whether a specific agent causes cancer.
IARC Monographs Questions and Answers
The basic tenet of a meta-analysis is that there is a common truth behind all conceptually similar studies, but which has been measured with a certain error within individual studies.
The aim in meta-analysis then is to use approaches from statistics to derive a pooled estimate closest to the unknown common truth based on how this error is perceived.
This is because UN organisations and meta-analysis display “agenda-driven bias”.
Problems arising from agenda-driven bias
The most severe fault in meta-analysis often occurs when the person or persons doing the meta-analysis have an economic, social, or political agenda such as the passage or defeat of legislation.
People with these types of agendas may be more likely to abuse meta-analysis due to personal bias.
For example, researchers favorable to the author’s agenda are likely to have their studies cherry-picked while those not favorable will be ignored or labeled as “not credible”.
In addition, the favored authors may themselves be biased or paid to produce results that support their overall political, social, or economic goals in ways such as selecting small favorable data sets and not incorporating larger unfavorable data sets.
The influence of such biases on the results of a meta-analysis is possible because the methodology of meta-analysis is highly malleable.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization.
Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control.
IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
However, if you are worried about processed meats then you might be well advised to do some further research.
Getting water into meat and fish products is a specialised process which can involve soaking, tumbling and injection.
Getting the water to stay in the product is another trick altogether, and typically involves the use of water retaining additives commonly referred to as phosphates.
The additives E450 (diphosphates), E451 (triphosphates) and E452 (polyphosphates) bind water to meat and fish products and act as emulsifiers, allowing water and fat to blend more smoothly in meat mixtures such as sausages.
Processed meats are pumped up with water
The Food Commission (UK) Ltd – 27th April 2005
E450 Potassium and sodium di-phosphates
E451 Potassium and sodium tri-phosphates
Meat processing, also known as further processing of meat, is the manufacture of meat products from muscle meat, animal fat and certain non-meat additives.
Additives are used to enhance product flavour and appearance.
They can also be used to increase product volume.
For specific meat preparations, animal by-products such as internal organs, skin or blood, are also well suited for meat processing.
Meat processing can create different types of product composition that maximizes the use of edible livestock parts and are tasty, attractive and nourishing.
Meat Processing Technology for Small-to-Medium-Scale Producers
Gunter Heinz, Peter Hautzinger
Frank Davis has some interesting postings and reader comments on this topic.
A Statistical Investigation – Frank Davis -28 Oct 2015
Repeat Something Enough And Everyone Will Believe It – Frank Davis – 29 Oct 2015