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Why we should listen to #WHO on processed #meat, tweets top environmentalist Sunita Narain

Counterview Desk
In what may prove to be a fuel for the Sangh Parivar outfits seeking complete ban on beef, well-known environmentalist Sunita Narain has tweeted (@sunitanar): "Why we should listen to #WHO on processed #meat", asking readers to visit the http://www.downtoearth.org.in/, which she edits, in order to read the article which approvingly quotes a World Health Organization (WHO) study that "processed meat" may be "carcinogenic to humans."
Narain shot into prominence during her campaign in mid-2000s against Cola Cola and Pepsi Cola. In 2013, a committee headed by her came up with a report for the Government of India, which talks of Adani project – port and SEZ – at Mundra in Gujarat having "violated and not complied with environmental clearance conditions."
The article on red meat says that "the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the WHO, has stated in a study that consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans and can cause colorectal cancer. IARC evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat."
Based on an analysis of a "working group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme", which "thoroughly reviewed scientific literature", the article says, "The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent."
"The group also classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans", the article says, adding, "The classification is based on 'limited evidence' from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence".
Qualifying "limited evidence" as a "positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer, but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed 'chance', 'bias', or 'confounding') could not be ruled out", the article says, "The Monographs Programme identifies and evaluates environmental causes of cancer including chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical agents, biological agents and personal habits in humans."
The article approvingly quotes Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Programme as saying, “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed”, adding, “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
An explanatory note attached with the article says that "red meat" is not just beef but "all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat."
As for processed meet, it is one which is "transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood."
Coming to what makes meat "carcinogenic", the note says, "High-temperature cooking methods generate compounds that may contribute to carcinogenic risk, but their role is not yet fully understood. Cooking at high temperatures or with the food in direct contact with a flame or a hot surface, as in barbecuing or pan-frying, produces more of certain types of carcinogenic chemicals."
It further says, "Meat consists of multiple components, such as haem iron. Meat can also contain chemicals that form during meat processing or cooking. For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons."
The note adds, "Cooking of red meat or processed meat also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines as well as other chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also found in other foods and in air pollution. Some of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens. But despite this knowledge, it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased by red meat or processed meat."
To the question whether this means one should "stop eating meat", the note underlines, "Eating meat has known health benefits. Many national health recommendations advise people to limit intake of processed meat and red meat, which are linked to increased risks of death from heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses."

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