Cancer Institute Clarifies Processed Meat/Cancer Connection


In May, our organic blog reported on the American Institute for Cancer Research’s recommendations on slashing red meat consumption and the risks of grilling foods. The AICR was especially concerned about the link between processed meats and colorectal cancer risks. 


Now, the institute finds itself in a “furious PR battle between two conflicting interest groups.”

What follows is the AICR’s official statement, in its entirety, on how its research has been interpreted and publicized.

“The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an anti-meat advocacy organization, is using the AICR report’s conclusions to bolster its campaign to get all processed meats out of U.S. schools. AICR is not affiliated with PCRM or this campaign. 

“The American Meat Institute (AMI) has responded with a statement that attacks the AICR report by recycling the misleading arguments AMI first made when the AICR report was published in November of last year. 

“Here’s the science behind all that spin:

“The AICR expert report was an international five-year project that involved the work of nine independent teams of researchers, hundreds of peer reviewers and a panel of 21 world-renowned experts. In preparing this comprehensive, objective and transparent report, evidence from over 7,000 studies on all aspects of cancer risk was reviewed; the report contains the experts’ assessment of the results of this research in a list of 10 clear recommendations to lower cancer risk. These recommendations deal with body weight, physical activity and the overall shape of the diet. 

“The expert panel did not issue a recommendation unless the epidemiological data was clear, consistent and supported by strong laboratory evidence. 

“Among the panel’s recommendations: Limit consumption of red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) per week. But according to the report: ‘The evidence on processed meat is even more clear-cut than that on red meat, and the data do not show any level of intake that can confidently be shown not to be associated with risk.’ 

“This does not suggest, however, that an occasional hot dog at a ballgame, or a slice of ham at Easter, will cause colon cancer. What the evidence does show is that making processed meats an everyday part of the diet, as many Americans do, poses clear and serious risks. That is why AICR now recommends avoiding hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, cold cuts and other processed meats. 

“The AMI statement contests this recommendation, citing alternate conclusions that were reached by a review of the evidence that was commissioned by AMI. Such an ad hoc literature review, paid for by an interested party and conducted by two scientists alone, lacks the scope, objectivity and rigor of which the AICR expert report is a model. 

“We at AICR wish the multibillion-dollar meat industry would take the money it uses to attack the objective conclusions of independent experts and devote it to researching why diets high in processed meats are so consistently associated with troubling increases in colorectal cancer risk. With such efforts, it may prove possible to isolate the particular cause or causes and make processed meats safer. 

“In the meantime, no amount of meat-industry spin can change the fact that the exhaustive AICR report has been embraced by the international scientific and medical community and represents overwhelming scientific consensus.” 

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