Last week, the Optimist Editorial Board published a response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) press release concerning the carcinogenic effects of red meat. I was greatly disappointed with this response–not so much for the difference in opinion but more so for the content of this response.
First, I would like to clarify the WHO’s position, as I feel it was misrepresented by the Editorial Board. To start, the WHO reviewed over 800 peer-reviewed studies concerning red meat, which is a world of a difference from “800 cases of cancer” (which could likely come from one epidemiological study alone). Second, the WHO does not intend to “scare people into…becoming vegetarians”–this is simply a straw man fallacy. On the contrary, the WHO actually acknowledges on its website that both vegetarian and omnivorous diets have health benefits and risks. Rather, the WHO advises consumers to limit–not eliminate–red meats from their diets, particularly processed red meats. Third, the risks associated with eating red meat are not “insignificant,” as the Editorial Board suggests. After reviewing hundreds of epidemiological studies, WHO health experts determined a significant relationship between colorectal cancer and processed meats. This is quite an important claim in the health community and required a tremendous amount research to make. Added, this press release does not focus on the other health risks associated with processed meats, such as diabetes and heart disease.
In addition to the above, I was also extremely disappointed with the Editorial Board’s blatant disregard for preventive medicine throughout their response. According to the Editorial Board, the 34,000 cancers caused by processed meats are not worth preventing. Instead we should all remain blissfully ignorant of the known health risks and live life to the fullest. Why bother brushing and flossing our teeth, getting vaccines, or even wearing seat belts? At what point would these 34,000 cases become significant to the Editorial Board–100,000, 500,000? Perhaps, they should also factor in the deaths due to diabetes and heart disease (also associated with processed red meat), whose combined yearly deaths total nearly 20 million. At what point are we going to start taking preventative medicine seriously? In our age demographic and our nation, we repeatedly dismiss these preventive measures and live life only thinking about the present. But there are serious diseases associated with certain choices we make, and there are people going through unnecessary suffering. Just because the Editorial Board does not consider this “a prominent issue” does not make this issue any less real or important. The WHO is fulfilling its duty as an organization: educating us about health risks and diseases. And I for one stand behind them for doing so.
Tina Johnson is a senior biology major from ??.