Home » Reasonably true » How red meat is like … red meat

How red meat is like … red meat

I go through long periods when I just can’t seem to finish anything: poetry, fiction, essays, it doesn’t matter. I work at it. I take notes, jot down ideas, begin paragraphs, sit in coffee shops streaming my consciousness. No matter how promising it looks, or, in desperation, how passable, I just can’t seem to pull the trigger. It’s a log jam (I won’t use the more obvious metaphor, although, as you’ll see, it’s more appropriate).

Then something comes along that just pushes the rest of it through willy-nilly.

For the last couple of days, the news has been all over social media that WHO has declared red meat to be “probably” carcinogenic. Vegan friends are beside themselves crowing, rubbing our faces in it with a vicious glee. There is nothing more likely to raise the hackles of the normal person.

Sometimes, though, it’s better to let sleeping hackles lie. The rest of us might experience that rare motivation to check things out for ourselves, rather than believe the first meme that comes along.

First of all, WHO has also declared the night shift to be probably carcinogenic. It’s not exactly an exclusive category. It’s just a statement of statistical fact; no attempt is made to judge how much of a danger it really represents

In the case of red meat, it seems that daily consumption of more than 100 grams is correlated to a 25% or so (the figures vary, depending on what you’re reading) increase in the incidence of colorectal cancer. “Yikes!” you might say. But what does this actually mean?

For some reason, WHO appears to have conflated processed meats with red meat for this study, so it’s difficult to assess either category by itself. It also appears to have ignored other lifestyle factors, but let’s go with what we’ve got.

The incidence of colorectal cancer in the general population is about .04%. Eating red meat raises your chances to a whopping .05%; that’s right, an increase of .01%.

Friends, you are more likely to die driving to the grocery store to buy the red meat than you are from eating it.

3 thoughts on “How red meat is like … red meat

  1. The conclusions the WHO made are just simply bapheling. I can’t believe how stupid and biased they actually are. Can’t they see the fact that processed and natural red meat are totally different in nutritonal quality and macronutrient ratios. I thought we got over that phase but appareantly not.

  2. The study I read from them clearly distinguished between unprocessed and processed meat. It identified processed meats as a definite cause of cancer, and red meat as a probably cause. Both of these statements appear to be true, as are the statements that neither of them are a massive health threat. Don’t shoot the messenger; they are not responsible for the media coverage.

    • Thanks for the clarification, Eric. Still, the media coverage leads you to think red meat is deadly, which it clearly is not. To some extent, WHO is responsible for media coverage; they could help a lot by clarifying what their classifications mean for daily decision making. Even if something is a definite cause of cancer, it doesn’t mean it adds a significant risk to your health; it just means there is a clear statistical correlation.

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