CALGARY — The Canadian Cattlemen's Association says there are many theories why red and processed meat may be linked to cancer, but no scientific consensus has been reached.
The association commented after the World Health Organization's cancer agency said hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats can lead to colon, stomach and other cancers, and that red meat is probably harmful, too.
Cattlemen's spokesman Mark Klassen says it isn't fair to lump meat along with arsenic and cigarettes.
"Intuitively we know that arsenic is a very poisonous substance, I think less than a teaspoon would kill you, and you try to reconcile that with the meat that you ate this morning, which obviously didn't and you ask yourself, 'well, how do these two relate?''' Klassen said Monday in a phone interview from Strathmore, Alta.
"Both of those could be cancer hazards, but the risk or the probability that they will cause a problem is vastly different.''
Health Canada said it will review the findings of the agency, adding it will "update our dietary guidance if necessary.''
The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, analyzed decades of research and for the first time put processed meats in the same category as smoking or asbestos. That doesn't mean salami is as bad as cigarettes, but it does mean that there's a confirmed link to cancer. And even then, the risk is small.
The agency made no specific dietary recommendations and said it did not have enough data to define how much processed meat is too dangerous. But it said the risk rises with the amount consumed.
An analysis of 10 of the studies suggested that a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily — or about 1.75 ounces — increases the risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by about 18 per cent. An ounce and three-quarters is roughly equivalent to a hot dog or a few slices of bologna, though it depends on how thinly it is sliced.
"Our understanding is Canadians eat about half of that per day, so as long as you're not eating bacon at every meal and you're following the recommendations of Canada's Food Guide, there's no reason to stop eating,'' said Klassen.
Klassen says if there is an increase in the potential risk of colorectal cancer from red meat consumption, it is very small. He also says that risk needs to be considered relative to the benefit of red meat, noting that beef is among the best food sources of well absorbed iron and protein.
He doesn't expect to see a reduction in beef consumption.
"I think we've just realized that you do have to take these things with a grain of salt and at the end of the day, that balance, following the food guide and eating a variety of foods is always going to be a better idea than cutting out something completely,'' said Klassen.
With files from The Associated Press
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