Why did meat become carcinogenic?

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According to a report published today by the British newspaper «The Daily Mail», the World Health Organization (WHO) listed bacon, burgers, sausages and other meat products among potentially cancer-causing substances. Raw meat is also likely to be included in the «encyclopedia of carcinogens». According to the expert opinion, it is only «slightly less dangerous than preserved products». Other meat products, according to doctors, are not any less dangerous than such poisons as arsenic and nicotine.

Equating everyday products with substances unlikely to be eaten by anyone, is a reflection of the WHO’s dubious approach to substance risk and danger assessment.

Thus, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the WHO, researches causes of the emergence of carcinogenic substances in the human body. It’s not a secret that sources of such influence are ubiquitous and the IARC’s list already comprises over 90 substances and factors.

The problem is that the IARC persistently uses the term «risk» in its statements, while admitting that it does not assess the actual risk.

This double-talk causes confusion and awkward situations: arsenic, salted fish, asbestos and oral contraceptives happen to be placed next to each other on the list of carcinogens. Around four hundred products and industrial processes in total are labeled carcinogenic, but that doesn’t mean their production implies a chance of disease or health damage.

Around the world, its no surprise then that an ambiguous interpretation of IARC lists is used for the introduction of regulations — and even bans — on the use of materials on a government level. An example of this is the now notorious story of how the IARC’s list led to a number of EU countries banning the use of the chrysotile form of asbestos – a unique form of asbestos not banned in the United States or the vast majority of countries around the worl.

Why EU leaders would choose asbestos out of the long list of potentially carcinogenic substances is still unclear. In fact, following this logic the EU should subsequently ban or at the very least begin discussions to ban salted fish and dangerous meat products. In other words, the lack of frivolous bans on these products confirms there is an economic rationale behind the policy: the restricted use of chrysotile-asbestos cuts off Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and a number of other countries from the multi-billion West European construction materials market, Rather than safe guarding public health, the chrysotile ban is nothing more than a subsidy program for alternative product manufacturers.

For the record, asbestos (a commercial not scientific term) is comprised of two separate and bio-chemically distinct families of minerals: one of which is banned around the world due to public health hazards (amphiboles) and one that is widely used around the world following standard industrial safe use procedures (chrysotile).

In defiance of the scientific facts, powerful lobby groups continue to fight against chrysotile which has the unique properties of being both affordable and durable, especially as an additive in long lasting roofing solutions for communities and populations in lower income countries. Defying the scientific facts of safe use means distorting the facts. One such distortion is equating a substance’s presence on the IARC’s list, to poisonous and dangerous chemicals, which is, of course is a fabrication and deliberate exaggeration.

It is worth noting that the WHO is responsible for a global health scandal when it banned dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT, or simply Dust). The WHO claimed that this substance (which was used effectively used against malaria) is impossible to remove from the human body and may be dangerous for health. After DDT was banned the market was shared by other less effective products, and for 25 years the malaria death toll exceeded 25 million people (according to the data provided by the World Health Organization, annual malaria morbidity amounts to 500 million people, 1 million of which die). The ban was eventually lifted, however, when it was realized how many people had died from malaria as a result of the elimination of DDT. And herein we find an exemplary case of the WHO’s incomplete science leading to the creation of a market for alternative products that end of causing tremendous harm.

Looking to the future, it is hoped that government’s around the world and consumers alike will take more care to understand and interpret the WHO and IARC – less we face a world with new bans on meat, fish and other “listed” items.