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How the Meat Industry Reacted to the New Cancer Warnings

What was the meat industry’s response to leading cancer charities’ recommendation to stop eating processed meat, like bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meat? As I discuss in my video Meat Industry Reaction to New Cancer Guidelines, the industry acknowledges that the most recent international cancer prevention guidelines now urge people to avoid processed meat.

“It is evident that…such a statement represents ‘a clear and present danger’ for the meat industry,” reads one response in the journal Meat Science. However, processed meat, it continues, is “a social necessity.” (How could anyone live without bologna?) The challenge for the meat industry, the response outlines, is to find a way to maintain the consumption of these convenience products while somehow not damaging public health.

We’re still not sure what in processed meat is so carcinogenic, but the most probable educated guess for explaining the damaging effect of processed meats involves heme iron, along with nitrosamine and free radical formation, ultimately resulting in carcinogenic DNA damage. To reduce the nitrosamines, they could remove the nitrites, something the industry has been considering for decades because of the long-known toxic effects they cause. The industry adds them to keep the meat pink. There are, evidently, other coloring additives available. Nevertheless, it’s going to be hard to get industry to change “in view of the positive effects” of these substances as preservatives and in achieving a “desirable flavour and red colour developing ingredients.” No one wants green eggs and ham.

It’s like salt reduction in meat products. The meat industry would like to reduce it, but “[o]ne of the biggest barriers to salt replacement is cost as salt is one of the cheapest food ingredients available.” A number of taste enhancers can be injected into the meat to help compensate for the salt reduction, but some leave a bitter after-taste. To address that, industry can also inject a patented bitter-blocking chemical that can prevent taste nerve stimulation at the same time. This “bitter blocker is only the first of what will become a stream of products that are produced due to the convergence of food technology and biotechnology.”

The meat industry could always try adding non-meat materials to the meat, such as fiber or resistant starch from beans that have protective effects against cancer. After all, in the United States, dietary fiber is under-consumed by most adults, “indicating that fiber fortification in meat products could have health benefits.” But, of course, the meat industry’s own products are one of the reasons the American diet is so deficient in fiber in the first place.

The industry is all in favor of reformulating their products to cause less cancer, but “[o]bviously any optimization has to achieve a healthier product without affecting quality, particularly hedonic aspects.”

“It is important to realise that nutritional and technological quality [in the meat industry] are inversely correlated. Currently, improvement in one will lead to deterioration of the other.” Indeed, the meat industry knows that consumption of lard is not the best thing in the world—what with heart disease being our number-one killer—but those downsides “are in sharp contrast to their technological qualities that make them indispensable in the manufacture of meat products.” Otherwise, you just don’t get the same “lard consistency.” The pig’s fat doesn’t get hard enough, and, as a result, “a fatty smear upon cutting or slicing can be observed on the cutting surface of the knife.” Less heart disease versus absence of that fatty smear? I suppose you have to weigh the pros and cons…


According to the World Health Organization’s IARC, processed meat is now a Group 1 carcinogen—the highest designation. How is it that schools still feed it to our children?

How Much Cancer Does Lunch Meat Cause? Watch the video to find out.

For more on carcinogens, cancer, and meat, see:

Some of the meat industry’s finagling reminds me of tobacco industry tactics. See, for example, Big Food Using the Tobacco Industry Playbook and The Healthy Food Movement: Strength in Unity. You can also check out American Medical Association Complicity with Big Tobacco.

Skeptical about the danger of excessive sodium intake? Check out The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure. If you’re still not convinced, see Sprinkling Doubt: Taking Sodium Skeptics with a Pinch of Salt and Sodium Skeptics Try to Shake Up the Salt Debate. Why do the meat industries add salt when millions of lives are at stake? Find out in Big Salt: Getting to the Meat of the Matter.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


43 responses to “How the Meat Industry Reacted to the New Cancer Warnings

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  1. These products are like alcohol and tobacco. Hedonistic, consumed for momentary pleasant taste sensations. Totally unnecessary. They are detrimental to health. Slap labels on processed meat products like the ones on alcohol and tobacco products to indicate that these products are dangerous to consume.

  2. “Whoever is content with the world, and who profits from its lack of justice, does not want to change it.” -Friedrich Durrenmatt

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair

    “We live in imaginary, virtual worlds created by corporations that profit from our deception.” – Chris Hedges

    “We all have an infinite capacity to endure the suffering of others.”- La Rouchefoucauld

    1. I like the third quote, too.

      I was just listening to WNPR talking about people commiting suicide because of dry eye.

      What came to mind was my response emotionally to the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

      I remember the first time I heard it and they got to the lines:

      Where the only water flowing is the sting of bitter tears….

      ….Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.

      Everybody trying to just put their head in the sand all the time to avoid understanding the pain of other beings is not a new thing.

  3. Hasn’t anyone read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell? His studies show that it’s not the nitrates or other additives, though they may be carcinogenic as well, but the IGF-1 in all meats and fish that ultimately cause cancer. Giving up all meat will result in a dramatic decrease in cancer.

    1. Joan,

      It’s IGF1, it’s TOR, which our bodies change to MTOR, it’s the additives, it’s all the unnatural and natural qualities in meat, fish, fowl, eggs, and all dairy products. It’s a package deal.

  4. I appreciate that you posted this blog in response to yesterday’s comments. You care about the audience and that is nice.

    I also like the women’s and men’s health categories on YouTube. Never noticed them before. Feels like you need one miscellaneous diseases category because you are missing categories for things like Kidney failure and MS, etc.

    Either way, I appreciate how responsive you are.

  5. It is also the consumers that will complain about a change. Everyone knows that smoking is toxic but people still want to smoke, so the companies keep doing it. Just the way more people want vegan food and more companies are making it. Even the companies that 90% of their companies come from animal products.

    1. I know, Rainbow, I cannot believe how many people still smoke today. I see them smoking in their cars on my way to work. With all the information on smoking that’s out there … it’s so sad.

        1. We might as well ask why people live in cities, work as police or fire officers, drive fast cars or sit in front of the tv or computer for hours on end. All these things increase the risk of illness, trauma and/or pemature death.

          But it’s increased risk not certainty and it’s never going to happen to ME anyway. Other people, yes. but not me. Also, we are all going to die in the long run so why not enjoy the ride? Plus, let’s not forget ‘all things in moderation’ – heroin, booze, cannabis, red meat etc. All those health problems only occur in people who overdo drugs, tobacco, alcohol, junk food and red meat don’t they? After all. the defintion of an alcoholic is someone who drinks more than you do

          1. Tom,

            People need to make a living. That is why people take those jobs.

            I watch Public Television and every generation has the desperate masses – the vast majority of people trying to make a living and not be poor and comforting themselves from the pain of life. And then there are the wealthy privileged – though sometimes the wealthy, powerful turn out to be poor, too.

            Watching the Victoria series, it strikes me over and over again how many of those powerful, pampered people had debt issues.

            Life is hard and people comfort themselves is part of it.

            Life is easy and people just please the lists of their flesh is the other half of it.

          2. Mr Fumblefingers, you make good points there. I was priviledged to confront my own mortality once, as was my husband (under different circumstances), so we don’t live thinking it can not happen to us. It can, and it has. And I have seen the posts of people leading cancer support groups made up of folks who have lead extraordinarily healthy lifestyles – and they (the patients) wonder what they did wrong. I guess I am just the type that feels so blessed by all that is going ok that I want to make every effort to not mess it up unnecessarily.

    2. Rainbow, you are right.

      Vegan is growing as the Whole Food Plant Based message gets out there.

      But consumers still want meat.

      Dr Greger has pointed out that much fewer people smoke nowadays because people heard enough of the right anti-smoking messages.

      Meat will be harder, but if these Doctors can get their message out in a pleasant and entertaining way, it will become more mainstream.

      Pegan being one of the hot new diets because of Dr Oz and Dr Hyman gets people closer to vegan. Keto emphasizing low animal proteins and increasing vegetable intake is much closer to vegan than Atkins was.

      Vegan foods are everywhere now.

      When I developed an allergy to meat, the Heslth food stores were where I had to shop. Now I moved from lacto ovo vegetarian and I am amazed that I can shop everywhere.

        1. Turns out that Lion’s Mane mushrooms are seriously meaty. More than Jackfruit.

          Now that I have torn one apart, I am excited to try it as a faux meat to some dish.

          I am thinking they would be excellent in a faux tuna casserole.

          1. Lion’s mane mushrooms are ‘meatier’ than jackfruit, eh? I will have to try them. Thanks for the tip, Deb!

            I love mushrooms but have never tried lion’s mane.

    1. Pam,

      You are right about the additives and they are pimping them with ads and putting out deceptive studies….

      But what I notice the most is how many products suddenly say: organic, nonGMO, no artificial flavorings or coloring, no salt added, no sugar added, etc.

      Consumers speak by what they buy and those companies would be just as happy to have people buy things which don’t have all those things in them.

      It costs less for them to not use them and if people keep buying them, they will shift further in those directions.

      They are more responsive to their spending audience than anything.

      1. Hi Pam, I agree with you, it all boils down to what the consumer buys (and most just buy what’s cheap). I have noticed that Country Crock now has a commercial out which jumps on the plant-based eating bandwagon. The animated commercial’s tag line is, “.. now made with the goodness of plants.” Then you go to the ingredients list and it’s still a long list of artificial this and dymethal-that.. it’s silly. Plus, the other day I saw a commercial for Dove body wash.. and what bandwagon did they jump on? They used the word “microbiome” they must have said it about 5 times during the ad. Dove still has a ton of toxic ingredients in it.. and when a person slathers that crap all over their body during showering.. it definitely gets into the skin—er, excuse me, it definitely gets into the microbiome. These conglomerates are doing whatever they need to do to keep profits surging while upping the budgets for marketing. Consumers really have to be on their toes these days..

  6. Chamge is happening, and the big companies are changing, but it isn’t perfect.

    Hunts for instance seems to be trying.

    They drive me a little crazy that they didn’t make their organic tomatoes sodium free.

    Rotele has a new no salt added version.

    Some of the ketchups use honey now.

    I haven’t tried it, but the big companies really seem to be trying and I applaud them.

    Now it is the consumers turn to embrace it.

  7. A lot of today’s supposed food is made by chemists instead of by cooks or nature. The body is too complicated to make healthy food using chemistry. In addition many of those chemists do not care about healthiness of their food. Nature has the most healthy dishes there are. Cooks can cook healthy only by staying close to nature.

    Often when I want to eat food with a nice colour I just eat fruit which is naturally appealing to humans (because it is the natural food of humans).

  8. You can’t stop these giants! The way forward is to educate the people and put this info in all the health magazines and newspapers continually advising people of the risks of eating these processed foods. Educate, educate, educate! If it’s possible to get warnings on these foods that would be good too.

  9. The topic of this article is repulsive, it also clearly indicates yet another way meat can be even MORE PROCESSED in the slaughterhouse. The meat industry, no matter how you cut it, is a dirty business. Chemicals to preserve, chemicals to make meat pink, chemicals to ward off the negative effect of bitter? PLEASE!!! My head is swimming with disgust at how repulsive this industry is. Of course, you’re going to get the average joe and mary beer-can who say, “..who cares, as long as it tastes great.” To those who would consume all these chemicals, plus the fact that the meat itself has been scientifically shown to cause (or increase) cancer? Yeah, to that I say if joe and mary beer can want to put blinders on (or as the above pic shows) stick their fat heads in the sand and continue to consume this “food stuff” then I say go ahead, but expect to be in a nursing home or have debilitating illness at a relatively young age. Me? I’d rather still be active and engaging in life (like Dr. T. Colin Campbell)—and not be mired down in pain and whatever else is a by-product of this way of eating. Articles like these continue to make me thankful to God that He allows me to be a vegan and plant-based eater. I am also grateful that my Native American father raised me vegetarian, then as a pre-teen took all animal products out of my eating lifestyle. He believed in compassion for all life and now–as an adult I am glad he raised me to be a more informed adult and a healthier one. Thanks for the info Dr. Greger..

  10. Thank you so much for all of your valuable information. I have had the pleasure of attending the Plant Based Nutrition course offered through Dr. Campbell at Cornell and everything you say, you are spot on! Please, never stop providing this information….and you do it for FREE! You are indeed wonderful (and I love your humor, which is also important to well being).

    Thanks again!

  11. With the development and marketing of meat grown from cell cultures, (for example, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat) I wonder how those products compare with respect to carcinogenicity…using beet juice for its color has to be safer than nitrates, one would think. Haven’t seen any research on the IGF-1 levels in these products yet…

    1. Veggivet, we once ate a “meat loaf” made from Impossible Burger at a vegan restaurant, and were struck by how salty it was. Then I read the list of ingredients and nutrients once I was back home — um, no thanks. It’s highly processed food, which we try to avoid. We prefer to eat our veggies and fruit, legumes and whole grains, and nuts and seeds “processed” at home — i.e., bought as whole foods, and prepared and cooked by us. Better tasting, and better for us, too.

      here are the ingredients of Impossible burger: Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (Soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12. (https://impossiblefoods.com/faq/)

      And here is the nutrient list: Here’s the full nutritional breakdown of one three-ounce Impossible Burger patty:

      220 calories
      13 g fat (10 g saturated)
      430 mg sodium
      20 g protein
      5 g carbohydrates
      0 g fiber
      Less than 1 g sugar
      (https://www.womenshealthmag.com/food/a21050196/the-impossible-burger/)

      1. that doesn’t sound like food to me. but if are happy to eat it for moral reasons, so be it. i’d rather eat a hamburger every now and then.

      2. Thanks, Dr. J. I realize that these are highly processed foods. My question is whether or not omnivores who make the switch to these cultured meat products will experience a reduction in cancer rates, specifically the cancers that are directly tied to meat-eating. At least if we knew the levels of nitrates and IGF-2 in these products, we might be able to make an accurate prediction…

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