Food Scares – WHO vs Bacon

The media are hyping a report from the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) that claims to link eating processed meat and red meat to cancer.

Scientists from WHO did a data dredge from several hundred epidemiological studies looking for associations between meat and cancer, specifically colon cancer.

Epidemiologic studies never provide a causal link. They can only provide statistical correlations. WHO is in the business of linking things to cancer and the data show red meat was correlated to just 3 extra cases of bowel cancer per 100,000 people. (Source). They could just as well have found associations between wearing brown shoe laces and cancer.

Steve Milloy, proprietor of the JunkScience blog says that “Not a single epidemiological study credibly links meat-eating with cancer.” (Source) He notes:

  • A cardinal principle of epidemiology is that it is a very useful methodology when looking for linkage between high rates of rare diseases, the sort of relationship classically found, for example, in outbreaks of food poisoning.
  • But epidemiology is wholly incapable of identifying low risks of relatively common diseases or conditions, such as most cancers. The reason for this is simple: the margin of error in study data due to inaccurate and incomplete data collection is typically far greater than the size of any statistical relationship that may exist or be detected.
  • Accordingly, the rule of thumb in epidemiology, as famously espoused by the National Cancer Institute, is that, “In epidemiologic research, [increases in risk of less than 100 percent] are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.”
  • Further, just because a reported risk is greater than 100 percent, that does not necessarily indicate a cause-and-effect relationship. Such reported risks may be statistically insignificant (indicating they could have occurred by chance) or have wide margins of error (indicating flaky data). And, of course, for any statistical risk to have meaning, it must be backed up by biological plausibility.

One of WHO’s bogeymen is nitrates and nitrites in processed meat. The terms “nitrate” and “nitrite” seem to be used interchangeably. Nitrate (NO3) and nitrite (NO2) are inorganic ions that occur naturally and are part of the nitrogen cycle.

Nitrites and nitrates have been used for at least one thousand years to preserve meat. They block the growth of botulism, prevent spoilage and rancidity, and preserve the color.

Ingested nitrate (from foods and water) is converted to nitrite when it comes into contact with the bacteria in our saliva. Most is excreted in the urine.

WHO blames nitrites/nitrates in processed meat for causing cancer. Processed meat contains about 10 ppm (parts per million) nitrate/nitrite. WHO seems unconcerned with vegetables that contain ten to 100 times the amount of nitrate. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) tested the nitrate content of vegetables and reported results in their journal in June, 2008. [Note they report results as mg/kg which is the same as ppm.] Here are some examples of the nitrate content of vegetables: arugula 4,677 ppm, basil 2,292 ppm, butterhead lettuce 2,026 ppm, beets 1,279 ppm, celery 1,103 ppm, spinach 1,066 ppm, pumpkin 874 ppm.

Epidemiological studies from WHO should be taken with a grain of salt. Oh, wait, salt’s bad too.

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Be wary of statistical traps


  1. My neighbor never smoked a day in her life she is 89 and has Lung Cancer! Hey, we all have to die of something yeah?

    • My Grandfather lived to be 85 and on his 84th birthday was told he had Emphasyma and had to quit smoking. He told the dr to go to hell and said what’s it’s going to do kill me? I’ve lived a good life. This is from a man who ate enough eggs in his life to start his own chicken factory

      • This whole cancer thing is just a few morons that like to try to control peoples lives through TERRORISTIC SCARE TACTICS, like the government’s of our once great nation do. I quit smoking years ago, not because I was afraid of getting cancer, but because they just raised the tax on a pack of cigarettes. The last pack I ever bought was, if memory serves me right, was $1.50. When I started smoking a carton cost $2.50 for unfiltered Pall Malls.

        • joohn, I was in New York recently (not by choice) and my brother, who still smokes, bought a pack. Get ready, $11.00!!! Are you kidding me? Anyone who still smokes is crazy.

  2. BACON!!! I want more BACON give me BACON BACON BACON!!! The Hell with the WHO!!!! If they had their way we’d only eat vitamin pills and lettuce

  3. pookie – its usally the americano’s that are complaining about the prices being to low – so they force the mexicans to increase prices so maybe they can sell the pig, same thing happens to tomatoes

  4. What the hell, do these idiots work for the striking Mexican farmers that are bitchin about the prices are to low or what ever it is.

    Heck, everyone dies of something eventually, my plan is to die happy with BLT sandwiches. That’s if I can still find a red tomato that’s got more taste than a water ball.

  5. Don’t really care if these idiots put some “study” together and got the results that they wanted. The world can’t live with out bacon and bacon is one of the four food groups along with peanut butter, chocolate and alcohol….Bring on more bacon.

    • Now that was funny enough to wake me up 😉 These studies seem to just go down the foods list and pick about three food items about once a year. The criteria is to choose anything that makes you go ‘mmmm’. Then the public turns to the same reaction as firearms sales when obama makes his gun law threats. Then sales skyrocket. Cancer from foods started when we boomers started eating out of microwaved plastics.

      • Agreed Connor. Coffee used to be bad for you but only in odd-numbered years. Now it’s good for you all the time. We’ll see what happens in 2016. Along with the bacon cooking, I smell a money making opportunity in the form of a federal grant for these alarmists. Also sounds a bit like the global warming crowd to me.

  6. When it comes to people like these that use TERROR TACTICS like this, it makes me laugh at the people that will actually buy into this B.S. Anyone with an I.Q. greater than a cabbage knows that cancer is caused by a cancerous gene in a persons system that certain produces that a person comes in contact with can cause cancer to infect the body. I saw on the news that a woman that is over 100 years old eats BACON on a daily basis. These studies are done on averages and sometimes they are such low percentages that it is really stupid to report them. A friend of mine smoked a pack a day all of her life but NEVER got lung cancer. A year ago she died of Pancreatic Cancer. My maternal grandmother on my mothers side smoked so much her fingers were brown from the nicotine as she smoked filter less cigarette’s, and she died at the age of 87 from old age. There has never been anyone in my family that has had cancer yet so I guess/hope that we do not have the GENE that causes cancer’s to form. Take your TERROR TACTIC’S and stick them.

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