1. Objectives: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Board jointly funded a project for Dr. Dominik Alexander, PhD, MSPH (Principal Epidemiologist, EpidStat Institute) to conduct a thorough review of the science on red and processed meat consumption and cancer risk.
2. How research was conducted: Dr. Alexander performed a comprehensive review (in the form of meta-analyses) of the epidemiologic and mechanistic studies surrounding red meat and processed meat and risk of several cancer types. Dr. Alexander extracted, analyzed and interpreted the relevant qualitative and quantitative information from each study.
3. Research findings: The researchers observed some weak positive associations, which were generally slightly more elevated for processed meat; but the evidence is limited and relatively inconsistent. Thus, the totality of the epidemiologic evidence on red meat and processed meat, including cooking methods and mutagenic by-products, are not supportive of causal relationship with cancer.
4. What these findings mean to the industry: Despite billions of research dollars and decades of research, few, if any, foods have been clearly demonstrated to cause an increase or decrease of cancer risk. Red meat is no exception. The potential role that red meat or processed meat intake plays on cancer risk has been widely debated in scientific communities with no clear evidence that its consumption (on its own) causes cancer. Red meat consumption fits into a complex paradigm creating challenges including the inability to disentangle effects from other dietary and lifestyle factors; when evaluating its role (or lack of role) in cancer risk or development. This should not take away the fact that red meat and processed meats have a role in a healthful dietary pattern and thus should not be justification for consumers to reduce their intake of red meat.
Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD