The report that the meat industry has been bracing for from the World Health Organisation has landed. WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has announced that there is enough evidence to rank processed meats as a ‘Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans’, because of a link with bowel cancer—the second-leading cause of cancer death in the US alone.
But such news will make little impact to people’s purchasing decisions. Expectedly this morning, social media ignited as if someone was carelessly dangling a lit match above a container of flammable liquid just waiting to ingulf and disintegrate the productivity of those working or studying, and swallow whole the free time of those at home, as the clack clack clack of keyboard wars can be heard vaguely off in the distance, ringing well into the night.
Indeed, why would anyone who eats animal meat care if the deliciously enthralling processed meats like bacon cause cancer? So do 478 other known listed carcinogens.
Tobacco, a well known definite carcinogen, has been on the wind down for quite some time where smoking rarely appears in the latest blockbuster movie and the thin tubes of cured plant leaves are purchased in plain packaging with images of rotting cancerous gums, and yet upward of 1 billion people globally choose to smoke and the number is only growing.
Alcohol is deemed definitely carcinogenic and globally saw 3.3 million deaths attributable to alcohol consumption in 2012, meanwhile the fermented liquid slows down the activity of our central nervous system and the messages going between our brains and our bodies as it lubricates just about every social situation with a gleeful giggle.
The sun’s rays dose our skin with the required vitamin D3 and our Slip Slop Slap school programs and mandatory neck flap hats tried to protect us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, which causes melanomas and skin cancer. All the while, people choose to pay money to lay on tanning beds to be belted with ultraviolet radiation.
Even the obsessively loved and culture-shaping coffee bean is up for scrutiny as possibly being carcinogenic, imploring people to weigh up what’s more dangerous: a tired, irritable busy morning at work where the new intern will likely have their head metaphorically removed, or the increased risk of bowel cancer. Most people will solve the difficult morning with a chosen tasty wakeful stimulant.
The knee-jerk reaction of everything causes cancer so who cares from the masses is unsurprising and the news will unlikely produce a change in anyone’s purchasing decisions. Every day we see humans taking risks on their short- and long-term health where the risks on the potential decay of one’s own supporting life force are quickly analysed versus the aesthetic reward of darker skin or the immediate pleasure derived from scoffing down a fat-ridden burger, drawing in a lung-full of burnt tobacco smoke, or snorting the latest party-goer amphetamine taking you on a whirlwind blur to 7am.
What’s that..? The sound of defeat coming from an abolitionist vegan blogger who generally has at least one 20-tab topic open to research per day in Chrome might seem unexpected. Don’t get excited. I said sound, not actual defeat—my many 1’s and 0’s will continue to grow this blog towards 2GB large while I cringe at my annual Australian hosting bill. But it might seem like this little blogger is feeling a bit thwarted, that perhaps even with all of the activism and science in the world, people will never stop exploiting and using animals for their own selfish benefit. At least not in my life time. Admittedly, some days are harder than others, especially when it comes to social media—the platform where every anonymous weed clack clack clacks their opinion in attempt to dismantle all of those on the thread above them at any cost.
Processed meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky, ham, canned meat and meat-based sauces don’t seem to fare much differently to any other known carcinogen, despite having an additional ubiquitous layer of inherent suffering forced upon billions of sentient animals world wide every year. Throw in some related mass species extinction, biodiversity loss, detrimental deforestation, a dying ocean, human rights abuse and a correlation between increased crime rates in locations that play host to the bloody horrors and screams of a slaughterhouse, and it makes little difference to your average person trying to prepare for tonights dinner. If it’s not happening to them or someone they know, it moves outside the realm of concern and will rarely visit the edge of a person’s consciousness. Even if their actions today affect the future of their children, it doesn’t seem to register.
Processed meats are modified to extend their shelf life and change the taste via methods such as smoking, curing or salting, while it seems our own shelf life is put at risk and is decreased with each meal, while non-meat eaters are known to live longer. Some might not know that the World Health Organisation played a leading role in the eradication of smallpox and is responsible for accessing the performance of health systems around the globe. Their reveal today also placed red meat into ‘Group 2A: Probably Carcinogenic to Humans’ due to the link to pancreatic and prostate cancer.
They were serious about approaching the research that sent digital media a flutter. A large part of their decision came from a report called the “Food Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Prevention of Cancer”. This report came out of a collaboration between the World Cancer Research Fund, the WHO, and the American Institute of Cancer Research. They gathered together independent scientists from academia and government, vetted potential conflicts of interest, and evaluated evidence from more than 800 epidemiological studies, animal experiments, and other sources, that investigated the association of cancer with consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries, from several continents, with diverse ethnicities and diets.
The researchers looked at data that showed a plausible mechanism for creating cancer. They found that meat, when cooked, releases heterocylcic amines (HCAs), is loaded with heme iron which is highly oxidising, it stimulates our growth hormone IGF-1, changes bowel bacteria, and has the sugar Neu5Gc which is found in most mammals (but not humans) and when ingested it causes the human body to trigger an immune response to the foreign sugar, producing antibodies which spark inflammation and then leads to the progression of cancer. They then used epidemiological studies to see if the mechanisms described actually lead to cancer. If anything, the results appear a bit underplayed. Many of the studies had even stronger correlation between meat and cancer, but they then did statistical methods such as controlling for weight, LDL cholesterol, and amounts of veggies eaten, which weakened the association, and yet it was still present. They used hundreds of studies to arrive at these conclusions. Anyone who states that there isn’t a shred of evidence is flat out lying.
But it doesn’t matter. Studies have been linking detrimental health affects from animal protein for decades while the USDA pushed its post-WW2 infamous food pyramid recommending daily slatherings of protein-rich meat and dairy. Inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer—it doesn’t matter, not when you’ve been taught (and mislead) that you need animal protein to live a healthy life. They say the best type of propaganda is a technique where the masses are more likely to believe colossal untruths because they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even when the facts are provided on the link to the mess of chronic diseases that riddle the globe, such colossal untruths still have creditability. People will still doubt and waver on the facts. They will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.
The meat industry has been bracing for the WHO report for months, and its attempted to counter research linking meat to cancer for years. They’re worried about their sales, after all, because animal agriculture is about the cost effective (ha—hello billions of dollars of government subsidies), systematic confinement and death of animals to generate profit. and nothing stunts profits like the negative health impacts of what’s being consumed. The meat industry successfully influenced and controlled the Obama Administration and the USDA to not include guidelines around sustainable diets (that is, eat less meat) in the soon-to-be-issued 2015 Dietary Guidelines to assist in combating climate change, of which agriculture is a key driver.
Of course, the meat industry is no stranger to lobbying. During 2007 and 2008, the Obama administration attempted to take action on the stranglehold concentration of power among the few agricultural companies that dominate the American food market. The USDA had proposed the toughest antitrust rules over meat companies since the Great Depression—but the backlash of soaring rhetoric about the creation of a new food system, and the organised resistance marshalled millions of dollars and teams of lobbyists which helped turn back the biggest effort to reform the meat industry since the 1930s.
Animal-centric diets are commonplace. Animal use and suffering is commonplace. Justifications for it are commonplace. It’s incredibly easy to say “I would rather die than stop eating bacon, we’re all going to die of something” until you end up in hospital undergoing the surgical removal of part of your ass. Perhaps if more people understood the stress, pain and horrific nature of attempting to treat cancer, they’d be more concerned with what they ate. But again, if it’s not happening to them or someone they know, it moves outside the realm of concern. Everyone makes these kinds of choices every single day.
It seems obvious to state that the choices people make to are just that—personal choices. We choose to sit unprotected in the summer sun, we choose to hit up the morning liquid stimulant to get us through the working day, we choose to inhale the poisonous smoke from tobacco, and we choose to snort the crushed crystallised amphetamine whirlwind. We even choose to lay on ultraviolet radiation beds. Personal, after all, is belonging to or affecting a particular person rather than anyone else. We weigh our decisions to dance with known carcinogens and dangers, which may have no immediate consequence or may result in life changing moments. But ultimately they affect only us, we are responsible and we deal with the consequences. But there’s one carcinogen, which holds a heavier price, where it is quite simply no longer a matter of personal choice because it directly harms someone else—eating a murdered animal who wanted to live.