Media coverage of WHO’s carcinogenic meat report rocks meat industry

by | Oct 29, 2015 | Health, Media, News, Online News

On Monday, The World Health Organization (WHO) released a bombshell report that put processed meat in the same cancer-causing category as smoking and asbestos.

Bacon-lovers read with heavy hearts as the WHO’s cancer research unit officially classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” based on evidence from 800 studies and epidemiological data across different countries, ethnicities and diets. Hot dogs, beef jerky, smoked sausages, some lunch meats and chicken nuggets made the list.

Meanwhile, unprocessed red meat — beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, or goat — was labelled as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Perhaps to avoid a riot, the UN agency suggested limiting — but not entirely cutting out — these foods in our diets.

Predictably, the media hammer fell on the meat industry hard and fast. MediaMiser gathered more than 400 online news stories from Monday and Tuesday across major publications to gauge reaction toward the meat industry:

WHO’s carcinogenic meat report

Sensational headlines emerged: The New York Post declared “Bacon Equals Death”. Twitter erupted with the #FreeBacon hashtag. The International Agency for Research on Cancer website crashed.

Journalists interviewed nervous butchers, and asked financial experts if meat company stocks should be avoided. Italy feared “prosciutto panic”, with the country’s agricultural associations calling it “meat terrorism” and declaring “the Italian stuff the healthiest.” Germany, where bratwurst is a staple, deemed sausages were like sunshine—beneficial in moderation.

The Barbeque State (aka Texas) dismissed the report along with many South Africans who are gearing up for celebratory ‘braais’, in which BBQ’d meat is a fixture. Argentinians, whose country has one of the highest levels of meat consumption in the world, told the media they would “rather die than give [it] up.”

And to no one’s surprise, the meat industry came out swinging. The North American Meat Institute called it “dramatic and alarmist”, adding that the data had been “tortured…to ensure a specific outcome”.

America’s National Cattleman’s Beef Association also released a statement quoting various scientists who picked apart the findings. One of the world’s top meat exporters in Australia said linking sausages to tobacco risk was “a farce.” The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association told the press they were “taking it…with a grain of salt.”

In North America’s already declining red meat industry, time will tell if the report will impact consumer behaviour. But while some of us are already rethinking our sides at breakfast, there’s no doubt the media coverage surrounding this report is making the industry about as nervous as it’s making activists happy.

Hartley Butler George