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Understanding WHO: Are we now going to ban meat?

3 December 2015 02:45 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently announced that bacon, sausages and other meat products will be added to the list of substances that present potential hazards to human health (in other words, substances that are carcinogenic and can trigger the development of cancer). 

At the moment, the list includes over 400 different items, including such well-known substances as arsenic and nicotine. According to some experts, fresh meat might be next in the ‘encyclopaedia of carcinogens’ right after smoked meat products. They say that it is only “slightly less dangerous than canned products”. This means that meat and meat products, according to the WHO officials, are not much safer than many well-known industrial poisons.

Looking beyond the headlines, it is helpful to take a step back and ask: what are these alarming statements really based on? In reality, they boil down to the ambiguous approach of the WHO in the determination of a substance’s hazards and risks. The WHO includes the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and it is this body that actually searches for and identifies carcinogenic substances. Indeed, there are many such substances all around us in our daily lives – and they can be found literally everywhere – in our food, water and even in the air.

But it is exactly here that things get a little deceptive: on the one hand, IARC uses the term ‘risk’ quite persistently in its statements, but on the other, it confesses that it does not assess the actual risk levels. In other words, eating some types of meat could be bad for us because the WHO says it’s carcinogenic, but in reality how much exposure is needed to cause harm, is left unexplained. And herein lies the real problem with these so-called designations by the WHO and IARC.  They only identify a potential risk.

In total, there are over 400 products and industrial processes that are acknowledged to be carcinogenic. Yet, this does not mean that their production or exposure to them will lead to illness or harm to human health. Meanwhile, this twofold interpretation of IARC lists is often used as the basis for the establishment of severe regulatory measures and even all out material bans on the national level. 

Let’s take a recent example that is relevant today in Sri Lanka: a number of European Union countries have banned the use of chrysotile asbestos using as justification, reference to the WHO and IARC lists. To date, it is unclear why chrysotile asbestos was singled out from the extensive list of potentially carcinogenic substances, especially considering the fact that it used safely around the world and not banned by a majority of countries such as the United States, Canada, India, China, Brazil, etc. Nevertheless, that is how the WHO works and Sri Lanka (a country that has no medical history of harm due to the use of chrysotile after more than 60 years of import and manufacture) is now seriously considering a ban as well.


EU and US stance 
Following the logic of “if the WHO says it’s carcinogenic”…., the EU should have also given up salted fish, oral contraceptives and nowadays, even meat.
In reality, the ban on chrysotile asbestos in Europe has nothing to do with public health and has only served to cut off Russia, China, Kazakhstan and a number of other countries from the multibillion-dollar Western European building materials market. To be fair, it is worth noting that in the United States, where IARC’s wording is not taken as literally as it is in the EU, chrysotile asbestos is still used freely.

People might recognize that we just compared meat to asbestos, but let’s take a closer look: asbestos is a commercial (not scientific) term, used to describe two bio chemically diverse groups of fibrous minerals.  One group is never used today and has never been used in Sri Lanka (amphiboles) and the other group is used in small amounts as an additive in construction and other high density materials. Here in Sri Lanka for example, chrysotile is used in the manufacture of long-lasting and durable roofing and flat sheets. They are all over the country and are known for their affordability and high quality.

Notwithstanding the fact that chrysotile asbestos is approved for production and safe when used in controlled circumstances, in the battle against chrysotile, interested parties tend to demand its prohibition and in doing so often distort the facts. This means that as soon as IARC included chrysotile in the list of potentially dangerous substances, it was immediately deemed an urgent and dangerous poison and thus had to banned. This is a striking example of unfair representation and distortion and raises serious questions about the supposed need for a ban.

Taking a closer look at the history of chrysotile asbestos usage in the island, no concrete proof has been found of it affecting the health of manufacturers or end users.  In short, there is no medical or scientific evidence that is has ever caused harm and as a result, it is factually true that chrysotile has not caused a health crisis in Sri Lanka. Rather, chrysotile used in local manufacturing processes is known and accepted to be safe, just like when it is used in countries like Thailand and India.

Circling back to the beginning, Sri Lanka has a high usage of processed meat products. Indeed we are among the countries with the most outdoor eateries. And yet, just because the WHO states it is a carcinogen and could be harmful, are we really going to ban it?  

Let’s hope and demand that science and the facts will prevail. Such an approach is necessary – both for meat and the multi-generational well-known and trusted products that contain chrysotile asbestos.
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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 


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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.