WHO Meat Report Won't Steer Many Away From Burgers, Bacon: Experts

by Martha C. White /  / Updated 

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Don’t lead the meat industry off to the slaughterhouse just yet.

In spite of a strongly worded World Health Organization report linking red meat and processed meat consumption to an increased risk of cancer, Americans aren’t going to let go of their burgers and bacon.

Domestic consumption of beef and pork has been on a downward trajectory for years due to a variety of demographic, pricing and health-related factors, but most market analysts interviewed by NBC News on Monday said they don’t believe the report will hasten that trend.

“This report will be forgotten about tomorrow morning,” predicted Mike Seery, a commodity trading consultant and president of Seery Futures.

“This study and this topic has been discussed at length for the last 25 years,” agreed Altin Kalo, an economist at Steiner Consulting Group, who said concerns about red meat and processed meats are already factored into consumers’ choices today.

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Industry analysts say we’re on information overload when it comes to food and nutrition warnings, blunting the effect of any one report, even one as strongly worded as the one by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Reversals or softening of previous warnings about the health risks of butter, eggs, dietary fat and other foods also have cultivated skepticism in Americans’ minds, they say.

Debra Stephens, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Portland, agrees that the new report isn’t likely to be a tipping point for many consumers, because Americans’ thinking about the food they put on their plates has become an increasingly complex equation in recent years. A greater awareness about antibiotics and other additives, concern about animal welfare and willingness to explore food cultures where meat isn’t the center of the meal all have contributed to the decline in meat consumption, she said.

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For people who haven’t been swayed by these factors already, though, the new report probably won’t have them swapping their cold cuts for chickpeas anytime soon, Stephens said.

“I seriously doubt it… there’s a big difference between attitudes and behaviors,” she said. “Even if someone knows meat is bad for them, it’s very hard to change ingrained behaviors.”

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