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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The American Meat Institute (AMI) here joined other meat industry trade associations in expressing outrage over the findings of a study released yesterday by two cancer research organizations urging consumers to limit red meat consumption and avoid processed meat.
The 537-page report, titled "Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective," said consumption of red meat, processed meats like bacon, and alcohol as well as excess weight, significantly increase a person's risk of developing six different cancers.
The report, a review and analysis of over 7,000 large-scale studies released by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), also offers 10 guidelines regarding weight, diet and exercise to help reduce cancer risks.
The study's findings are based on a five-year process involving nine independent teams of scientists from around the world, hundreds of peer reviewers, and 21 international experts, the research groups said.
The meat industry fired back, contending that the study reflects anti-meat bias, and that its conclusions should be met with skepticism because it oversimplifies the complex issue of what factors cause cancer.
"WCRF's conclusions are extreme, unfounded and out of step with dietary guidelines," said Randy Huffman, AMI Foundation's v.p./scientific affairs. "Headlines associated with this report may give consumers another case of nutrition whiplash. The consistent finding in diet and cancer research is inconsistency."
Stressing that the study's recommendations sharply contrast mainstream advice in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, Huffman said not all relevant research was considered by the WCRF panel, including the largest study ever done on red meat and colon cancer - a 2004 Harvard School of Public Health analysis involving 725,000 men and women and presented at the 2004 American Association for Cancer Research Conference.
Huffman also disputed the report's "extreme recommendations" on processed meats, pointing out, "our own systematic review of the literature by independent epidemiologists has documented that 15 of 16 comparisons regarding processed meat and colorectal cancer were not statistically significant. The literature simply does not support the recommendations of the WCRF report.
"Processed meats that contain nitrite are safe and sodium nitrite is an essential ingredient whose safety is without question," Huffman continued. "The National Toxicology Program in 2000 - considered the gold standard when it comes to assessing cancer risk - fed very high levels of nitrite to rats and mice. The NTP panel determined that nitrite at these high levels did not cause cancer," he added, nothing that experts and the FDA concluded that the extremely low levels of nitrite used to cure meats are safe as well.
The Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board also denounced the study as misleading and said that consumers should continue to feel good about consuming processed meat as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
"While a body of scientific literature exists exploring the potential relationship between meat and cancer, the results are not supportive of a consistent or causal link," said Ceci Snyder, a registered dietitian and a.v.p./consumer marketing for the Pork Checkoff. "In fact, this report primarily looks at epidemiological studies, which alone cannot show cause and effect, and it fails to highlight the significant inconsistencies of data around the subject of meat and cancer."
The Centennial, Colo.-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association also registered its opposition to the report's linking of red meat consumption and cancer, which it called "unsubstantiated and...bad advice for consumers."
Said Mary K. Young, NCBA's v.p./nutrition and a registered dietitian: "There is no evidence red meat causes cancer, according to a recent 'Assessment of Red Meat and Cancer' by independent scientists. The comprehensive review evaluated every available epidemiological study on red meat and six types of cancer and concluded there was no causal link. How the WCRF review could come to a different conclusion is perplexing."