The Grinch, The WHO, Red Meat and Cancer: A Holiday Poem

roast beast-red meat and cancer

WHO LINKS RED MEAT AND CANCER?

In October, twenty-two scientists from ten countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, to evaluate the link between processed and red meat and cancer. The result was a highly-publicized press release by the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

I went over the WHO report with a fine tooth comb and can confidently reassure you that there is absolutely no proof that meat of any kind causes cancer in humans or animals. I will provide my complete analysis of the WHO report next month, but in the meantime, in the spirit of this joyous holiday season, I offer you a festive appetizer, if you will. A poem inspired by the beloved story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by the incomparable Dr. Seuss. And so, without further ado, I give you:

THE GRINCH, THE WHO, ROAST BEAST & YOU

  • Folks the world over liked red meat a lot
  • But the cancer committee in WHO-Ville did not.
  • “Those vouching for meat should be guilty of treason!”
  • (Please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason)
  • It may be the way that it’s processed or fried
  • Or the fact that it has so much iron inside
  • But I think that the most likely reason of all
  • May have been that WHO brains were two sizes too small
  • Staring down from their towers with judgemental frowns
  • At healthy meat-eaters below in their towns
  • Feasting on pork chops and luscious roast beast
  • (Roast beast is a feast WHO can’t stand in the least)
  • The WHO hated all meats–especially from cow
  • “We’ve got to stop red meat from coming, but how?”
  • Then they got an idea! An awful idea
  • The WHO got a wonderful, awful idea
  • “We know just what we’ll do!” the WHO snickered one day,
  • “We’ll shout meat causes cancer, and scare meat away!”
  • All we need is some data! The WHO looked around,
  • But good data is scarce, there was none to be found.
  • Did that stop the WHO? That did not trip them up
  • “We don’t need solid science, we’ll make some stuff up!”
  • They puzzled and puzzed till their puzzlers were sore
  • Then the WHO thought of something they thought we’d fall for
  • More than 800 studies they stuffed in a sack
  • “With numbers this big, they won’t dare to attack!”
  • But they based their conclusions on just twenty-nine
  • Fifteen of which showed that red meat was just fine!
  • But these studies weren’t studies at all, it turned out
  • They were basically guesses that weren’t tested out
  • They thought they could fool folks like you and like me
  • “Correlation’s causation!” WHO shouted with glee
  • Then three or four studies of rats they tossed in
  • (Rats pre-injected with carcinogen!!!)
  • They left out the ones showing red meat is good,
  • Hoping no one would notice (but you knew I would)
  • And three human studies they threw in there, too
  • But these studies were poorly designed (sad but true)
  • WHO dares condemn meat based on numbers so wee?
  • Three human studies—the audacity!
  • Maybe beef, pork and lamb are no cause for alarm
  • Maybe red meat, in fact, doesn’t cause any harm
  • It’s got protein and iron and vitamins too
  • The truth is that red meat is healthy for you!
  • This holiday season I hope you won’t fear
  • What the WHO said about meat—the facts are not there!
  • May you all enjoy time with your families and feast
  • On healthy whole foods and delicious roast beast:)
  • For more information about how the WHO
  • Tried to hoodwink good folks just like me and like you
  • You can read what’s behind all the hype and the fear
  • I’ve posted the details in blog form right here!
  • Read my complete analysis of the “evidence” behind the WHO report in this post: WHO Says Meat Causes Cancer?

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  • Really enjoyed this! It was fun!!

  • Geri Georgieva (gg)

    !!!! 😀 I really enjoy it too! Happy holidays

  • Stephen T

    A poem I learned something from. Merry Christmas.

  • Hazel

    Excellent work, doc. Charming to read, too.

  • derekson

    Even if we grant that there is possibly some truth to this claim (and there probably isn’t), wouldn’t it almost certainly come back to corn fed red meat with terrible Omega-6 to Omega-3 PUFA ratios? These promote inflammation which promotes tumorigenesis.

    • Hi derekson,

      Great question. I agree that the healthiest forms of meat (white or red) come from animals raised on their own ideal, healthy natural diets (grass for cows, for example). I am fortunate to belong to a local meat CSA which provides members with pastured animal foods, so these form the foundation of my diet. (In an ideal world we would all eat only healthy, naturally-raised animals, but this isn’t possible).

      So, does eating factory-farmed, grain-fed animal foods increase our risk of cancer? We don’t know. As you correctly point out, naturally-raised animals have superior omega-3 to omega-6 ratios, which may reduce our overall risk for inflammation and other health problems, depending on what else we are eating.

      The cancer studies cited by the WHO to support its contention that red meat is unhealthy were not designed in a way that can shed light on the possible connection between imbalances in PUFA’s and cancer. In fact, that potential connection is not even mentioned by the WHO in the list of possible mechanisms by which red meat is supposed to cause cancer. The complete (non-poetic) form of the WHO report analysis should be ready to post in the next week or two, so readers can see what the red meat studies actually tell us (and don’t tell us) about meat and cancer!

  • John

    Dear Doctor, what a wonderful parody. Again want to express my gratitude for your research. I believe that the conclusions arrived at by WHO most probably have a political agenda disguised as science. Could this possibly be linked to methane gas from cow flatulence and global warming? I don’t know the answer to that but am pretty sure, with the exception of you, most do not deconstruct these claims to separate fact from fiction. Thank you very much for that. Happy Holiday’s to you and yours.

  • Valerie

    What a delightful poem! Dr. Seuss would surely be pleased.

  • Terri Fites

    A blog post I can and did share with my kids! “She’s creative,” they said. Indeed you are! What fun! Can’t wait for the details. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  • 提前祝您新年快乐。
    乙未年(羊)冬月十九 2015-12-29

  • wo

    Happy New Year.

  • Emaho

    Happy New Year! I enjoyed the poem especially the last stanza. It was like you could not stop rhyming. Fun!

    • Dear Emaho, and everyone else below who wrote to say they liked the poem:

      I’m so glad my holiday foray into scientific silliness brought a little joy and whimsy to the season! Thank you all so much for reading it and for taking the time to let me know what you thought of it. The complete analysis of the WHO report on meat and cancer should be ready to post in the next week or two. Happy New Year!

  • Toni

    Do you think uncured and nitrate free bacon it ok to consume a couple tea a week?

    • Dear Toni,

      Such a good question. I confess I include some uncured bacon and salami in my own diet. I cannot tell from the scientific research whether this is unhealthy. I don’t eat it because I’m sure it’s completely safe; I eat it because it adds variety and convenience to my otherwise very limited mostly-meat diet. What I believe, and what I find to be supported by everything I have learned about nutrition, is that fresh/frozen animal foods (meat, poultry, and seafood) are the healthiest, most nutritious foods we can eat, and are the least likely to irritate our bodies and brains. Once you start processing them in any way, all bets are off. In an ideal world, I would eat only unprocessed meats.

  • Peggy Heppelmann

    WHO also acknowledge that the studies they looked at did not control for smoking. Given health messaging about red meat for the last two decades, it is almost certain that more red meat eaters smoke than non-red meat eaters. You can’t draw any conclusions about something that raises cancer risk by 18% that did not control for smoking which raises cancer risk by a factor of 20.

    • Evin Tucker

      Basically, there is an inherent bias against meat in most health and nutrition communities, so they will take any evidence they can to show that red meat is dangerous and shove it down our throats. In a way, the anti-meat, pro-vegetarian campaign has been a self-fulfilling prophecy for them. Because people think vegetarian diets are healthier, people who are health-conscious are more likely to become vegetarians. And people who eat meat are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, eat sugar, exercise less, and engage in all kinds of other unhealthy habits.