December 7, 2015

House Call

I have recently read about the dangers of eating processed red meat. Is it dangerous to eat unprocessed red meat? Is our church extreme in recommending a vegetarian diet?

There have indeed been recent reports on the dangers of eating processed red meat that received wide media coverage.

Scientists from 10 different countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France, October 2015, specifically to evaluate the role of processed red meat, and red meat itself in the causation of cancer in humans.1 They analyzed about 800 epidemiological studies on the association of cancer with the consumption of processed red meat products in many countries on several continents. Diverse ethnicities and diets were included. “Processed red meats” refers to meat that has been salted, cured, and subjected to fermentation, smoking, or other flavor-enhancing processes and methods of preservation. “Red meat” includes unprocessed meats such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, and horse and goat meats—refrigerated, minced, or frozen.

The studies were carefully done and analyzed, reported in the prestigious The Lancet medical journal, and elicited formal comment and a health warning from the World Health Organization. The IARC Working Group concluded that consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans, especially colorectal cancer, and probably associated with stomach cancer.

Additionally, they concluded that the consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, including colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. It’s important to note that the Adventist Health Studies have in the past confirmed the relationship between red meat consumption and colon cancer.

We should not be surprised, because we have long had instruction on the optimal diet, given that we may have life to the full, enjoying all things wholesome and avoiding those things that are harmful and the consequences. In light of robust scientific findings, the clear insight of Ellen G. White is even more compelling:

“Those who eat flesh are but eating grains and vegetables at second hand; for the animal receives from these things the nutrition that produces growth. . . . How much better to get it direct, by eating the food that God provided for our use! Flesh was never the best food. . . . People are continually eating flesh that is filled with tuberculous and cancerous germs. Tuberculosis, cancer, and other fatal diseases are thus communicated.”2

Is it extreme to avoid foods that may be harmful? Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death today, and red meat is associated with or causal in both! No, it is not extreme, but prudent and healthful.

Further encouragement: “Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet. We should ever keep this end in view and endeavor to work steadily toward it. I cannot think that in the practice of flesh eating we are in harmony with the light which God has been pleased to give us.”3

“Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chron. 20:20, NKJV).4

  1. Information for this article was based on “Carcinogenicity of Consumption of Red and Processed Meat,” The Lancet Oncology, Oct. 26, 2015:; and
  2. Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 313.
  3. Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1954), p. 383.
  4. Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.