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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Editorial: It’s not the end of meat as we know it and we feel fine

The World Health Organization announced Monday it had classified processed meats as a cancer hazard. The WHO reached this conclusion after the International Agency for Research on Cancer conducted an exhaustive study of pre-existing literature on the subject. Processed meats — which include bacon (sorry, America), sausage and ham — have been labeled under the "Group 1" classification by the IARC, meaning they are established carcinogens. Under these standards, processed meats occupy a comfortable position alongside cigarettes, alcohol and, most tantalizingly, asbestos.

Before you read any further: Don’t panic. The "does eating processed meats cause cancer?" debate has been raging for quite some time, as anyone who has taken ANS2002, otherwise known as The Meat We Eat, can tell you. Although Monday’s news lit a fire under the bottoms of both sides of the debate, with proponents of vegetarianism and red-blooded Americans alike rushing to defend their respective positions, the WHO’s press release didn’t tell the public anything common sense already hadn’t: everything in moderation.

Carcinogen or not, it ought to be eminently apparent that a meat-centric diet is not the healthiest option for one’s body. The cheapness of American meat, combined with the comparative affluence of our nation, has led Americans to consume more meat per person than almost any other nation. We’re also stupidly fat; for those of you swearing off meat because of its carcinogenic properties, be aware you were already feeling the burn (or indigestion) in a number of other health-related areas.

So, yes, as if they weren’t already unhealthy enough, processed meats are considered cancer-causing carcinogens now. Does this mean eating hot dogs and smoking Marlboro Reds aren’t all that different? Do we as a nation have to refrain from putting any red, phallic-like objects in our mouth lest we get cancer? Penile humor aside, the answer is not quite obvious — at least as far as meats go.

As Ed Yong stated in his piece for The Atlantic, "Beefing With the World Health Organization’s Cancer Warnings," the classification system utilized by the IARC is more misleading than most major outlets have reported.

"These classifications are based on strength of evidence not degree of risk," Yong writes. "So these classifications are not meant to convey how dangerous something is, just how certain we are that something is dangerous."

We’ll say it once again: Don’t panic. Meat, like nearly everything else we can see, hear or touch, has the capacity to kill us.

We don’t think a panel of the world’s foremost scientific minds needed to convene to tell us that. There are several good reasons to think twice before tickling your tongue with the tender delights of meat products on a regular basis; don’t let this be the reason you stop indulging entirely.

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