Local health/beef experts say don't worry about red meat

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COLUMBIA - Processed and red meats are linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, according to a new World Health Organization study released Monday. However, that doesn't mean you should skip the deli at the grocery store just yet.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the WHO, conducted a study in France that found red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, and processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. A Missouri beef industry official said people shouldn't worry about this study's results. 

"From their research they made some assumptions that they felt there was probably a cause of carcinogenic activity with beef as well as processed meats," Missouri Beef Industry Council Executive Director Mark Russell said. "But we know through science that there are many things that contribute to cancer and food is probably not one of the leading causes."

Russell said the nutritional benefits of eating red meat outweigh any possible risk, as long as people eat them in moderation.

"We've always been very supportive that beef, just like any other food or drink, in moderation can be very healthy and very beneficial to people eating it," Russell said. 

He said people should follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommendations when eating meat. He said a typical recommended serving size for red meat would be about the size of an iPhone. The USDA recommends people have 2-3 servings of meat per day. 

Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Assistant Director Scott Clardy also said the health department will continue to follow USDA guidelines for red meat, even after the results of this study. He said if anything, this study provided stronger evidence for people to follow those recommendations. Clardy said eating red meat doesn't guarantee a person will get cancer.

"We know smoking is still much more likely to cause cancer," Clardy said. 

He said the study shows that even if processed meat is carcinogenic, it's still not nearly as carcinogenic as cigarettes.

"There are many, many products that contribute to our health," Russell said. "It's that we have to use them in moderation, and exercise a lot, and refrain from those things that increase our risk for cancer."