The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on Oct. 26 condemning red meat as one of the main culprits for causing cancer. The topic quickly sparked a heated debate, as not even everyone in WHO's panel of reviewers are inclined to agree.
WHO's findings on processed meat was drafted by a panel of international experts after reviewing years of research on cancer and its link to red and processed meats. Data reviewed from 800 studies included human diet and health studies, animal experiments and cell process studies on how meat could possibly cause cancer.
Findings from the Cancer Council Australia, for one, report that more than 2,600 patients diagnosed with bowel cancers last 2010 were attributed to consumption of red or processed meat.
"It might be the high fat content, the charring in the cooking process or big meat eaters missing out on the protective benefits of plant-based foods, or a combination of these factors," Kathy Chapman, a member of the council, said.
From these findings, WHO concluded that processed meats such as bacon, hotdogs, ham and sausages can increase a consumer's risk for bowel cancer, and that perhaps the same could be said for red meat.
The report does not mean however that the experts are calling for a ban for meat, and even if it did, not everyone is bound to agree.
Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has called WHO placing sausage in the same carcinogenic category as tobacco smoke a "farce", and other critics claim sensing a vegan conspiracy.
Even WHO panelists, who had anticipated this backlash, agree that a ban on meat is an overkill.
"No-one's proposing that we ban bacon, put warnings on hot dogs or take beef off the barbie," said Bernard Stewart who headed the committee in charge of WHO's review. Instead, Stewart explained, their findings provided proof that eating too much red meat and/or processed meat can increase a person's risk for cancer.
In other words, it is not the meat itself, but the vast quantities of them that some people consume that is the problem.
In Australia, men were eating an average of 700 gm (1.5 lbs) of meat and women, 520 gm (1.15 lbs) of meat per week, based on a recent survey.
"The average person is eating larger amounts of meat more often," Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said. "And it's a matter of quantity like everything else.