The meat scare

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The meat scare

An explosive report from the World Health Organization last week linking the consumption of both processed meat like ham, sausages and bacon and red meat to cancer has shocked Korean consumers and put many of them off meat.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer last week shocked the world by placing processed meats in the same category of danger as smoking and asbestos and concluding that red meat “probably” does as well. It said it based its conclusion on decades of studies.

An analysis of 10 of the studies suggested that a 50-gram portion of processed meat consumed daily can increase the risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by about 18 percent. Red meat was labeled “probably carcinogenic” with connections to colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, although the risk was less than for processed meats.

Experts say the findings shouldn’t be so shocking since scientists have long warned of the health risks from certain chemicals used to cure, grill and smoke meat. The WHO placed greater weight on the risks to raise public awareness of how modern meat-eating lifestyles may be changed in the context of a healthy diet.

Nevertheless, the findings have scared many common consumers in Korea. Sales of deli products and meat have plunged more than 20 percent.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said the WHO report was theoretical and promised to launch a separate investigation into processed meats and red meat. The WHO also admitted its report was not asking people to stop eating meat but was simply advising cutting back. But the scaremongers are already at work. And while local health authorities spend time investigating, the farming and food industries could be devastated.

Health authorities must deliver public health information fast and in detail with total clarity. They must use all possible media channels to raise understanding of their findings among local consumers. Meat provides nutrients essential for the body and brain.

Saying that eating a beefsteak or a hotdog is as dangerous as smoking and drinking neither helps the economy nor the general public’s health. What should be emphasized are healthy and balanced diets. The government must act fast to come up with its own recommendations to help the public understand the real facts. Such a role for the government is essential in our age of excess information.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 31, Page 30

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