Fallout after IARC report almost nonexistent

by Lawrence Aylward
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Smithfield Food’s bacon operations didn’t come to a crawl in the days following Oct. 26, when the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a report that processed meat is “carcinogenic” and that “red meat” is probably carcinogenic. It was business as usual at Smithfield, not to mention other meat and poultry operations throughout the country.
“To be honest, I don’t think there is a lot there,” Mike Merritt, senior director of retail brand marketing for Smithfield, said of the report about two weeks after it hit the news. “There hasn’t been any impact that I’ve seen [in Smithfield’s operations.]”

Some industry news outlets sensationalized the potential backlash, in one case predicting a sweeping damage control campaign would be needed to combat the negative fallout. But Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), said there would be no such campaign.

“That is currently not planned,” she said. “It appears that consumer confidence is strong. But we will monitor it closely.”

Riley said there was limited reaction to the IARC report, which concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases an individual’s risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Examples given by the IARC included bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky and other items.
“I think consumers are so tired of the good news/bad news stuff when it comes to food that they may be tuning it out,” Riley added.

In wake of the report, Riley said NAMI has been providing good information about the nutrition benefits of meat using its revamped Website, www.meatpoultrynutrition.org.

Merritt said consumers are relatively smart and understand general health guidelines, like what foods are good and bad for them.

“I know that consumers get a lot of stuff thrown at them,” Merritt added. “Whether they are actually processing all these things and know what to believe or what not to believe...There’s so much that comes at you every day.”

Four days after its initial report, the WHO announced plans to re-examine the role of processed meats and red meat in a healthy diet. In a statement, the WHO said IARC’s review confirms the recommendation in WHO’s 2002 “Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases” report, which advised moderate consumption of preserved meat to reduce the risk of cancer. “The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer,” WHO stated.

Phil Seng, CEO of the United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF), said “we were initially pensive about what the report would bring and what the reaction would be” in terms of meat exports. But in a conference call with reporters on Nov. 5, Seng said the report “seemed pretty muted” in markets around the world.

After seeing the responses in those markets – specifically how those nation’s health ministries supported the meat industry – Send said he was put at ease, noting there were positive reports about meat consumption that dismissed the report.

“I thought that was very encouraging because [the report] wasn’t just associated with US product; it was associated with product around the world,” he said.

Seng said he believes any impact the report could have on exports has passed.

“I don’t see this report as being a retardant to our exports in 2016,” he added.
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