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Processed Meats Linked to Cancer, WHO Report Says

Food

Bad news for bacon lovers. Processed meat, such as sausage, hot dogs, ham and bacon, was officially classified today as "carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer," according to a new report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.

The agency also found that the consumption of red meat, which it defines as "all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat," is "probably carcinogenic to humans" (classified as Group 2A). The finding is based on "limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect." The agency found an association between the consumption of red meat and colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

The association puts processed meat in the same ranking (Group 1) as 118 other "agents," including alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes, that the IARC deemed as having the potential to cause cancer. There are four other classifications, Group 2A, "probably carcinogenic;" Group 2B, "possibly carcinogenic;" Group 3, "not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity;" and Group 4, "probably not carcinogenic." The IARC has classified 985 agents in total and found only one to be "probably not carcinogenic."

Experts concluded that eating just 50 grams of processed meat a day increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. “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,” says Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Program. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The IARC looked at more than 800 studies in the past 20 years that investigated an association between various cancers with the consumption of red or processed meat. The studies spanned "many countries and populations with diverse diets," according to the IARC.

"These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”

Unsurprisingly, industry groups have reacted with fury to the findings, CNBC reported. The North American Meat Institute has accused the IARC of “dramatic and alarmist over-reach."

“Red and processed meats are among 940 substances reviewed by IARC found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard,’" Barry Carpenter, North American Meat Institute president, told CNBC. “Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer.”

Other organizations, such as the World Cancer Research Fund warns that there is "strong evidence that eating a lot of [red and processed meat] increases your risk of bowel cancer." And the National Healthy Society Choices' website says that "evidence shows that there is probably a link between eating red and processed meat and the risk of bowel cancer. People who eat a lot of these meats are at higher risk of bowel cancer than those who eat small amounts."

However, one expert (via The Independent), emeritus fellow at the Institute of Food Research Dr. Ian Johnson, cautions against putting the risk on the same level as that from tobacco smoke:

"Although there is epidemiological evidence for a statistically significant association between processed meat consumption and bowel cancer, it is important to emphasize that the size of the effect is relatively small, and the mechanism is poorly defined.

"It is certainly very inappropriate to suggest that any adverse effect of bacon and sausages on the risk of bowel cancer is comparable to the dangers of tobacco smoke, which is loaded with known chemical carcinogens and increases the risk of lung cancer in cigarette smokers by around 20-fold."

Friends of the Earth's senior food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, had this to say:

 "This should be a wake-up call that our diets urgently need to change. Evidence shows that high meat diets not only harm our health, they damage our environment too. Experts have warned that unless we eat less meat globally, we will fail to meet our climate change targets. Polls show that consumers are willing to eat less meat, and now this research should shake the Government into bold action. The government should do more to help people access healthy, sustainable diets, with less and better quality meat."

And David Wallinga, a physician who writes for NRDC, said the finding shows "Americans' love affair with meat" has a "supersized impact on public health." He adds, "It would not be good medicine to wait longer before strongly advising the public to eat less red meat and especially less processed meat."

"Bottom line: Eat less and better meat," says Wallinga. "Better for you, better for the planet."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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