To the chagrin of meat-eaters worldwide, the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) – the cancer agency of the World Health Organization – has just published a summary of over 800 studies, some of which decades-long, on the link between consumption of red meat and processed meat and cancer. The summary concludes that consumption of red meat is probably linked to cancer, and that consumption of processed meat is demonstrably linked to bowel cancer. Specifically, every 50 gram portion of processed meat consumed daily increases the risk of bowel cancer by a significant 18%. An average sausage weighs about 70-80 grams.
On the basis of this research, IARC experts decided to add red meat and processed meat to the list of potential cancer-inducing agents. Red meat, i.e. ‘all mammalian muscle meat, including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat’, was classified under Group 2A, as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. More worryingly, processed meat, including all red meat ‘that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation’, was classified as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1).
With this decision, processed meat now ranks together cancer-wise not only with the usual suspects against which healthcare professionals advise us – alcoholic beverages, tobacco smoking, and solar radiation – but also with less pleasant substances such as mustard gas, arsenic, and plutonium. To leave no room for doubt, the Q&A clarifies that among the new known carcinogens are ‘hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces’. (Surprisingly, bacon was left out of this particular clarification.)
Few people, of course, were under the illusion that these products were good for your health. However, their classification as known carcinogens has significant public health implications, which may lead governments worldwide to consider adopting measures to prevent consumption, or at least excessive consumption, of processed red meat. As with regulatory measures aimed at lowering consumption of tobacco and alcohol, we can expect the new anti-bacon measures to become the subject of international litigation under trade and investment dispute settlement.
The question of how to give weight to health and other public interest concerns under investment law is still a tricky one. Under the law of the World Trade Organization (WTO), on the other hand, I believe the issue is essentially settled: once a decision of an internationally recognized scientific body such as the IARC exists to ground policies, WTO law will in principle pose no obstacle to even-handed measures aimed at reducing consumption or even removing the product from the market entirely. Read the rest of this entry…