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Animal Science: Today and Tomorrow

December 7, 2015

Dr. Tom Troxel                                                           Dr. Michael L. Looper 

Does Beef Really Cause Cancer?

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat among substances considered carcinogenic while red meat was classified as probably carcinogenic. At this point it is uncertain as to what sort of demand impact the release of this report will have on red meat consumption.

There have been other reports in the past that have sought to link meat consumption and cancer but the impact on demand appeared to be relatively transitory. However, we live in a very different media landscape than even a few years ago. The consumption effects will depend largely on how the nuanced message of this report will be packaged and delivered.

“This meat causes cancer” is one of the headlines, showing a picture of sausages and bacon. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report however says that each 50 gram portion (1.8 oz) consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The average consumer does not have an actuarial background or an inclination to model risk behaviors. However, they do have an abundance of common sense, especially when it comes to consumption of foods that are deeply rooted in tradition, across cultures, and have been shown to provide sustenance over the millennia.

One of the more interesting facts in reviewing the story is red meat is the 939th agent found by the IARC to increase the risk of cancer. Examining the inter-relationship among all these agents (which include air, work environments, etc) and understanding the true level of risk from each one is outside the scope of the work of IARC. Other agents will most surely be added to the list in the coming years as the committee continues to catalogue all and everything that could be bad for us.

In the meantime, the world population has gone from around 3.2 billion in the early 1960s to around 7.5 billion today and will likely be at 9 billion in another 25 years. The global life expectancy has gone from around 55 years in the early 1960s to well over 70 years today. Some of that improvement is certainly due to modern medicine and reductions in child mortality. It is also due to the fact that as incomes have risen across all regions of the world, it has led to better nutrition, including higher consumption of meat protein. And this is one thing that reports such as the one above do not really tell the consumer.

While eating a portion of processed meat every day could increase the risk (which may be quite low to begin with) by 18%, how does that risk change if people stop eating meat and instead seek to find nourishment from less nutritional foods? Consumers well remember all the fuss about cholesterol and fat and heart disease. This led to a dramatic change in food consumption as manufacturers tripped over each other to replace fat with sugar. Today the consumer is more obese and new science tells us that risks from fatty foods may not be as dire.

Meat consumption has been increasing, in tandem with global incomes and wellbeing. In the developing world, rising incomes have allowed consumers to substitute meat for lower quality protein, a trend that will likely continue as developing countries close the income gap. WHO reminds us of the 939 risks out there. Fair enough. But the ride is too short and precious to hide in a bunker, breathing filtrated hair and eating celery sticks (Source: CME Group).

River Valley Beef Cattle Conference

The 2016 River Valley Beef Cattle Conference is set for Feb. 16, 2016 at the I-40 Livestock Auction in Ozark.

The conference speakers are:

  • Dr. Heidi Ward, Assistant Professor and Veterinarian – University of Arkansas – “Feeding Antibiotics – The Change is Here!”
  • Dr. John Boyd, Professor – University of Arkansas, “Pasture Weed Control”
  • Mr. Jim Robb, Senior Agricultural Economist – “Cattle Market Outlook”
  • Mr. Kent Reading, I-40 Livestock Auction Owner and Operator – “Heifer Selection”

The River Valley Beef Cattle Conference is a joint educational effort by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and Farm Credit of Western Arkansas.

A registration fee of $20 will be collected at the door. The conference is from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Foreign Attachés Learn about Arkansas Agriculture

On August 30, agricultural attachés from around the world gathered at the Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center for dinner and to learn more about agricultural programs at the University of Arkansas. Dinner was prepared for the group by the Arkansas Cattlemen and Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture, Wes Ward.

The group of 27, which was part of the Foreign Agricultural Service’s annual foreign attaché tour, traveled to both Arkansas and Louisiana for an in-depth look at each state’s agricultural business.

They toured farms, processing and shipping plants and universities/research institutions. Jason Apple, Animal Science Professor, spoke to the delegates about the Department’s research and future research opportunities.

The European Union, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and a few individual European countries all had delegates present. 2015 marks the second time that the tour has traveled to Arkansas, and the Arkansas Cattlemen provided dinner for the group.


The Arkansas Cattlemen and Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture, Wes Ward cook dinner for a group of agricultural attaches from around the world.

For more information about cattle production, visit or or contact your county extension office.


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