Who is nervous about the recent WHO study on processed meats?

As many of you have heard, the World Health Organization just came out with a report definitively linking processed and red meat to cancer. In fact, meat is now in the same category as cigarettes as a potential carcinogen.

Our job here at your local food co-op is to provide everyone with the best possible food choices, so let’s take a deeper look at this report. In fact, this report is not particularly new – it’s just that the WHO has called extra attention to it. For a while we’ve known that cured meats are carcinogenic. Few people, if any, associate bacon with health.

Now why would cured meat be carcinogenic? Well, there are a lot of hypotheses, but one of the largest is that the nitrates used to cure meat can be converted into carcinogens in the lower intestine, precisely where the increased risk of cancer is found.

Natural food advocates (and bacon lovers) will celebrate – all they have to do now is eat nitrate-free meat! Not so fast…if you look at the details of “nitrate free,” it actually reads more truthfully as “made without the use of added nitrates.” Nitrate-free bacon and sausage uses celery salts, which are naturally very high in nitrates, to cure their meat. Of course, natural nitrates are, well, natural. They come from nature – most leafy greens that the healthiest of us chow down on with regularity also have nitrates. In simpler terms, there’s just as many nitrates in your “nitrate-free” bacon, they just come from a different source, which you are likely already eating anyways. For an in-depth and scientific exploration of what exactly a nitrate is, read this: http://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2012/09/nitrates-the-good-the-bad-the-truth/

“So what do I do about nitrates?” cry bacon lovers everywhere.

Well, Americans tend to eat an awful lot of meat. And the link between cured meat and cancer is minimal – while smoking causes massively increased risks of cancer, cured meats only slowly add to your cancer risk, and they do it incrementally. So you can enjoy your cured meats, but in moderation.
But most importantly, if you’re going to keep eating cured meats, look at where they come from! The WHO report is based on the most commonly consumed bacon and hot dogs in the country – terminal cross pigs raised in gestation crates, packed barns with a manure slurry waste, fed nothing but GMO grains, and cured with chemical pink salts.

The WHO has not yet investigated is the quality of Berkshire pigs raised on pasture and fed a diverse organic diet – like the pork from Holley Family Farms.
It’s truly difficult to overstate the environmental, economic, and ethical differences between a commercial meat system and a local, sustainable one.
Speaking of small versus large scale, have you heard that Niman ranch, longtime purveyor of quality pork and beef, has been bought by chicken industry giant Perdue? Or that Applegate Farms is owned by Hormel, the maker of SPAM and recent host to an undercover video documenting animal abuse. Because we’ve seen what mega-corporations will do to small business in the name of profit (for a thourough example, watch this John Oliver video on chickens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9wHzt6gBgI)

While Perdue assures us they won’t interfere with the quality and environmental standards of Niman Ranch, the founder and former owner of Niman Ranch, Bill Niman, has already left the company because of what he believes are slipping standards. Until Perdue demonstrates that they can uphold standards (and we sincerely hope they do), we are going to phase out as many Applegate Farms and Niman Ranch products as possible.

We will be replacing many items with Organic Prairie, which is not only a purveyor of organic, non-GMO meat, but is also a farmer owned cooperative (like us!) and consistently delivers quality sustainable product.

So if you’re worried about the growing risks of cancer and environmental destruction resulting from the industrial agriculture system and just want to opt out, you can go local with Holley Family Farms and know you’re getting high-quality healthy meat. Or you can check out our diverse array of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as our local organic farmers like Lattin Farms and Nevada Ag!

Jacob Nachel, GBCFC Local Meat Buyer


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