This week I went to the grocery store to get a few of the necessities. You know milk (in a house with teenagers milk is always on the list), orange juice, bread and bacon. I got to the checkout counter and the clerk asked to see my I.D. At first I was puzzled, I had successfully passed by the beer aisle and tobacco is about the only bad habit I had never picked up, so why the need for I.D.? Then I realized I had a similar sinful, bad unhealthy product, bacon.
OK, that never happened but given the recent news release from the World Health Organization, aptly named W.H.O. It could have and might happen in the future. You know, as in W.H.O. in the right mind would ever do that? W.H. O. do they think they are? Well, you get my point. In case you did not hear, W.H.O. released a statement saying that they were classifying bacon and other processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen along the same line as tobacco and asbestos and all red meat as a group 2A. All of this came with words like probably and may, not real hard and fast, scientific evidence like one would expect with such strong recommendations.
Let’s address the processed meats first. I think we would all agree that processed meats are a sometimes food. I do not think anyone ever confused bacon with a health food. Processed meats have a lot of other health concerns along with the latest allegation and I am sure that we are all aware that we should not consume large quantities of them. I must say that while I am a big fan of bacon (yes, I am a big fan, literally) I fully understand that it must be ingested in a very limited amount.
Then came the biggest kick in the gut (again literally) when red meat was classified as a group 2A carcinogen. This is where the biggest leap between sound science and conjecture was made. The W.H.O. consistently uses language like “may be linked” and “a probable cause of cancer”. W.H.O. admits that the studies are limited and on small sample sizes and maybe influenced by outside factors like bias. I have a masters degree and I conducted research trials of my own and have many hours of statistics and several things caught my eye. First, bias should never come into play in a truly scientific study; there is never room for bias of any kind. Second, small sample size is a problem to make any study statistically significant. To be taken seriously all data must be statistically significant.
It bothers me a great deal that an organization like W.H.O. would make recommendations like this based on flawed or potentially biased research. However, W.H.O. has a track record of doing such things and not always being friendly to animal agriculture. However, I think the biggest problem with all of this is how it was reported in the media. If you read far enough down in the report, you will find that W.H.O. still reports that red meat has nutritional value as long as it is eaten in moderation. That was almost never reported, especially by national news outlets. We can get into what moderation means but that was never reported, at least initially.
I think what this highlights is a bigger problem that our society has, moderation. I am the worst offender when it comes to eating in moderation. Yes, processed meats are probably not the healthiest of foods, but if we eat them on a limited basis, I doubt if they would have an impact on our health. However, I dare you to name a food we have not added bacon too. Yes, it has become hard to find one that does not have bacon added to it in some form.
As far as red meat, I still believe it to be a healthy part of any balanced diet. Again, as long as we consume it in moderation. That moderation thing and consuming the recommended portion size is what trips most of us up. In most cases it is not the food that needs to have a warning but the manner in which we dine. However, we have become a society that would rather blame someone else for our problems than look inward to find the real reasons.
While I would rather see W.H.O. wait until they have solid proof and irrefutable data before they make recommendations that have such an impact on farmers and ranchers, I understand that the modern world does not work like that anymore. I feel confident that red meat is nutritious and safe. I also know that eaten in a balanced diet, red meat is an important source of many nutrients and healthy. I will continue to eat red meat and occasionally processed meat and I don’t care (what) W.H.O. knows.