Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Event Recap: The Importance of Science-Informed Policy & Law Making

by Ian McLaughlin          

Last week, we held a panel discussion focused on the importance of science-informed policy & law making.  The panel included Dr. Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist at Pennsylvania State University who recently wrote The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.   Dr. Andrew Zwicker, a member of the New Jersey General Assembly and a physicist who heads the Science Education Department of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, joined him.  Finally, Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist and entrepreneur who ran for congressional office in Pennsylvania and founded the 314 PAC, which promotes the election of candidates with backgrounds in STEM fields to public office, joined the panel as well.

The event began with personal introductions, with each member characterizing their unique perspectives and personal histories.  Shaughnessy Naughton highlighted the scarcity of legislators with backgrounds in math and science as a primary motivator for encouraging people with science backgrounds to get involved beyond just advocacy. 

Dr. Andrew Zwicker, having previously run for office in the US House of Representatives, ultimately was successful in his run for the state assembly in an extremely tight race, winning by just 78 votes, or 0.2456%  – a level of precision that he’s been told would only be spoken by a scientist, as most would simplify the value to a quarter of a percent.  He credited two primary features of his campaign as contributing to his success.  First, on a practical level, he utilized a more sophisticated voter model.  As the first Democrat ever elected to his district in its 42 years[1], it was critical to optimally allocate resources to effectively communicate his message.  Second, he identified his background in science as a strength.  When campaigning, he made it clear that he’d ensure facts would guide his decisions – and his constituents found that pragmatism appealing.

Next, Dr. Michael Mann summarized his pathway to prominence in the climate change debate by recounting the political fallout that occurred following the publication of his now famous “hockey-stick graph”[2].  In short, the graph depicts that average global temperatures had been fairly stable until 1900 (forming the shaft of the hockey stick), at which point a sharp rise in temperature begins (forming the blade).  In articulating why exactly this publication made such a splash, he highlighted the simplicity of the graph. It summarizes what is otherwise fairly esoteric data in a way that’s accessible to non-scientists.  “You don’t have to understand the complex physics to understand what the graph was saying: there’s something unprecedented taking place today, and, by implication, probably has something to do with what we’re doing.”  After its publication, he was in for a whirlwind.  The graph became iconic in the climate change debate, provoking the ire of special interests who then pursued a strategy to personally discredit Mann.

Naughton initiated the conversation by asking Zwicker if his background in science has influenced what he’s been able to accomplish in his past 9 months of public office.  While at times it has given him credibility and garnered trust among his peers and constituents, the nature of science is often incongruous with politics: rather than relying solely on facts, politics requires emotional and personal appeals to get things done.  A specific example: the fear of jobs being lost due to legislation, particularly reforms focused on energy and climate change, oftentimes obscures what would otherwise be a less volatile debate.

Naughton then asked Mann to describe his experience with Ken Cuccinelli, the former Attorney General (AG) of Virginia under former governor Bob McDonnell.  One of the former AG’s priorities was to target the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, as well as demand the University of Virginia – the institution where Dr. Mann had been an assistant professor from 1999 to 2005 – to provide a sweeping compilation of documents associated with Dr. Mann.  Cuccinelli was relying upon the 2002 Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, devised to enable the AG to ferret out state waste and fraud, to serve the civil investigative demand.  Ultimately, Cuccinelli’s case was rejected, and has since been considered a major victory to the integrity of academic research and scientists’ privacy.

The panel then invited questions from attendees, which ranged from technical inquiries of how climate estimates were made for the Hockey Stick Curve to perspectives on policy & science communication. 

One question focused on the public’s ability to digest and think critically about scientific knowledge – highlighting that organizations and institutions like AAAS and the NSF regularly require funded investigators to spend time communicating their research to a broader audience.  However, the relationship between the public and science remains tenuous.  Zwicker responded by identifying a critical difference in efficacy between the beautiful images and data from NASA or press releases and the personal experiences of people outside of science.  Special interest groups can disseminate opinions and perspectives that don’t comport with the scientific consensus, and without truly effective science communication, the public simply can’t know whom to trust.  He argued that scientists do remain a broadly trusted group, but without competent efforts to communicate the best science, it remains a major challenge.  Ultimately, the solution involves a focus on early education and teaching critical thinking skills.

Moreover, Mann commented on a problematic fallacy that arises from a misunderstanding of how science works: “there’s a fallacy that because we don’t know something, we know nothing.  And that’s obviously incorrect.” There are many issues at the forefront of science that remain to be understood, but that forefront exists because of relevant established knowledge.  “We know greenhouse gasses warm the planet, and it’ll warm more if we continue burning carbon.  There’s still uncertainty with gravity.  We haven’t reconciled quantum mechanics with general relativity.  Just because we haven’t reconciled all of the forces, and there’s still something to be learned about gravity at certain scales – we still understand that if we jump out the window, we’ll plummet to our deaths.”

Naughton suggested that much of this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public sentiment comes down to communication.  “For many scientists, it’s very difficult to communicate very complex processes and theories in a language that people can understand.  As scientists, you want to be truthful and honest.  You don’t learn everything about quantum mechanics in your first year of physics; by not explaining everything, that doesn’t mean you’re being dishonest.” 

Zwicker highlighted that there aren’t many prominent science communicators, asking the audience to name as many as they could.  Then, he asked if we could name prominent female science communicators, which proved more difficult for the audience.  There isn’t necessarily a simple solution to this obvious problem, given the influence of special interests and concerns of profitability.

An audience member then asked whether the panelists considered nuclear energy a viable alternative – and, in particular “warehouse-ready nuclear”, which describes small modular reactors that operate on a much smaller scale than the massive reactors to which we’ve become accustomed.  Zwicker, as a physicist, expressed skepticism: “You’ll notice there are no small reactors anywhere in the world.  By the time you build a reactor and get through the regulation – and we’re talking 10-30 years to be completed – we’re still far away from them being economically viable.”  He also noted that he’s encountered the argument that investment allocation matters to the success of a given technology, and that investment in one sustainable energy platform may delay progress in others.  The audience then asked about the panel’s perspectives on natural gas, which is characterized by some as a bridge fuel to a lower carbon-emitting future energy source.  Summarizing his perspective on natural gas, Mann argued “a fossil fuel ultimately can’t be the solution to a problem caused by fossil fuels.”

Jamie DeNizio, a member of PSPG, asked if the panel thought coalitions between state and local governments could be an effective strategy to get around current barriers at the national level.  Naughton noted that this is ultimately the goal behind the federal Clean Power Plan, with goals tailored to specific states for cutting carbon output.  Mann, highlighting the prevalent lack of acceptance of climate change at the federal level, suggested that the examples of state consortia that currently exist – like The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in New England, or the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) on the West Coast – are causes for optimism, indicating that progress can be made despite gridlock at the federal level.  Zwicker noted that New Jersey’s participation in trading carbon credits had resulted in substantial revenue, as New Jersey was able to bring in funds to build a new hospital.  He suggested that Governor Chris Christie’s decision to withdraw from RGGI was imprudent, and the New York Times noted that, in 2011, New Jersey had received over $100 million in revenue from RGGI[3].

Another issue that was brought up by the panel was how counterproductive infighting among environmentalists and climate change activists can be to the overall effort.  In particular, this splintering enables critics to portray climate change as broadly incoherent, rendering the data and proposals less convincing to skeptics of anthropogenic climate change.

Adrian Rivera, also a PSPG member, asked the panel to comment on whether they felt social media is an effective strategy to communicate science to the general public.  Mann stated that scientist that do not engage on social media are not being as effective as they can be, mostly because there is a growing subset of the population that derives information via social media platforms. In contrast, Zwicker highlighted the lack of depth on social media, and that some issues simply require more in-depth discussion than social media tends to accommodate. Importantly, Zwicker emphasized the importance and value of face-to-face communication. Naughton then brought this point to a specific example of poor science communication translating into tangible problems.  “It’s not all about policy or NIH/NSF funding.  It’s about making sure evolution is being taught in public schools.”  She noted the experience of a botany professor in Susquehanna, PA, who was holding an info-session on biology for high-school teachers. One of the attending high-school teachers told him that he was brave for teaching evolution in school, which Naughton identified as an example of ineffective science communication.

Finally, an environmental activist in the audience noted that a major problem he’d observed in his own approach to advocacy was that he was often speaking through feelings of anger rather than positive terms.  Mann thoroughly agreed, and noted that “there’s a danger when we approach from doom and gloom.  This takes us to the wrong place; it becomes an excuse for inaction, and it actually has been co-opted by the forces of denial.  It is important to communicate that there is urgency in confronting this problem [climate change] – but that we can do it, and have a more prosperous planet for our children and grandchildren.  It’s critical to communicate that.  If you don’t provide a path forward, you’re leading people in the wrong direction.”

The event was co-hosted by 314 Action, a non-profit affiliated with 314 PAC with the goal of strengthening communication among the STEM community, the public, and elected officials.

1. Qian, K. (2015, November 11). Zwicker elected as first Democrat in NJ 16th district. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from http://dailyprincetonian.com/news/2015/11/zwicker-elected-as-first-democrat-in-nj-16th-district/

2. Mann, Michael E.; Bradley, Raymond S.; Hughes, Malcolm K. (1999), "Northern hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations" (PDF), Geophysical Research Letters, 26 (6): 759–762, Bibcode:1999GeoRL..26..759M, doi:10.1029/1999GL900070

3. Navarro, M. (2011, May 26). Christie Pulls New Jersey From 10-State Climate Initiative. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/nyregion/christie-pulls-nj-from-greenhouse-gas-coalition.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Research shows how to make Human Stem Cell Lines divide equally

by Amaris Castanon
For the first time, scientists have generated haploid embryonic stem (ES) cell lines in humans, as published in Nature. This could lead to novel cell therapies for genetic diseases – even color blindness (Benvenisty et al., 2016)
The study was performed by scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem(Israel) in collaboration with Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF).
The newly derived pluripotent, human ES cell lines demonstrated their ability to ‘self-renew’ while maintaining a normal haploid karyotype (i.e. without chromosomal breakdown after each generation) (Benvenisty et al., 2016).
While gamete manipulation in other mammalian species has yielded several ES cell lines (Yang, H. et al., Leeb, M. & Wutz, A.), this is the first study to report human cells capable of cell division with merely one copy of the parent’s cell genome (Benvenisty et al., 2016).
The genetic match between the stem cells and the egg donor may prove advantageous for cell-based therapies of genetic diseases such as diabetes, Tay-Sachs disease and even color blindness (Elling et al., 2011).
Mammalian cells are considered diploid due to the fact that two sets of chromosomes are inherited: 23 from the father and 23 from the mother (a total of 46) (Wutz, 2014; Yang H. et al., 2013). Haploid cells contain a single set of 23 chromosomes and arise only as post-meiotic germ cells (egg and sperm) to ensure the right number of chromosomes end up in the zygote (embryo) (Li et al., 2014; Elling et al., 2011).
Other studies performed in an effort to generate ES cells from human egg cells reported generating solely diploid (46 chromosome) human stem cells, which is a problem (Leeb, M. et al., 2012; Takahashi, S. et al., 2014). This study, however, reported inducing cell division in unfertilized human egg cells (Benvenisty et al., 2016).
The DNA was labeled with a florescent dye prior to isolating the haploid stem cells and scattering (the haploid cells or the cells) among the larger pool of diploid cells. The DNA staining demonstrated that the haploid cells retained their single set of chromosomes, while differentiating to other cell types including nerve, heart, and pancreatic cells demonstrates their ability to give rise to cells of different lineage (pluripotency) (Benvenisty et al., 2016).
Indeed, the newly derived haploid ES cells demonstrated pluripotent stem cell characteristics, such as self-renewal capacity and a pluripotency-specific molecular signature (Benvenisty et al., 2016).
In addition, the group of researchers successfully demonstrated usage of their newly derived human ES cells as a platform for loss-of-function genetic screening. Therefore, elucidating the genetic screening potential of targeting only one of the two copies of a gene.
These findings may facilitate genetic analysis in the future by allowing an ease of gene editing in cancer research and regenerative medicine.
This is a significant finding in haploid cells, due to the fact that detecting the biological effects of a single-copy mutation in a diploid cell is difficult. The second copy does not contain the mutation and therefore serves as a ‘backup’ set of genes, making it a challenge for precise detection.
The newly derived haploid ES cells will provide researchers with a valuable tool for improving our understanding of human development and genetic diseases.
This study has provided scientists with a new type of human stem cell that will play an important role in human functional genomics and regenerative medicine.
Derivation and differentiation of haploid human embryonic stem cells. Sagi I, Chia G, Golan-Lev T, Peretz M, Weissbein U, Sui L, Sauer MV, Yanuka O, Egli D, Benvenisty N. Nature. 2016 Apr 7;532(7597):107-11.

Elling, U. et al. Forward and reverse genetics through derivation of haploid mouse embryonic stem cells. Cell Stem Cell 9, 563–574 (2011).

Leeb, M. et al. Germline potential of parthenogenetic haploid mouse embryonic stem cells. Development 139, 3301–3305 (2012)

Leeb, M. & Wutz, A. Derivation of haploid embryonic stem cells from mouse embryos.Nature 479, 131–134 (2011)

Li, W. et al. Genetic modification and screening in rat using haploid embryonic stem cells. Cell Stem Cell 14, 404–414 (2014).

Takahashi, S. et al. Induction of the G2/M transition stabilizes haploid embryonic stem cells. Development 141, 3842–3847 (2014)

Wutz, A. Haploid mouse embryonic stem cells: rapid genetic screening and germline transmission. Annu. Rev. Cell Dev. Biol. 30, 705–722 (2014).

Yang, H. et al. Generation of genetically modified mice by oocyte injection of androgenetic haploid embryonic stem cells. Cell 149, 605–617 (2012)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Event Recap: Dr. Sarah Rhodes, Health Science Policy Analyst

by Chris Yarosh

PSPG tries to hold as many events as limited time and funding permit, but we cannot bring in enough speakers to cover the range of science policy careers out there. Luckily, other groups at Penn hold fantastic events, too, and this week’s Biomedical Postdoc Program Career Workshop was no exception. While all of the speakers provided great insights into their fields, this recap focuses on Dr. Sarah Rhodes, a Health Science Policy Analyst in the Office of Science Policy (OSP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

First, some background: Sarah earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Cardiff University in the U.K., and served as a postdoc there before moving across the pond and joining a lab at the NIH. To test the policy waters, Sarah took advantage of NIH’s intramural detail program, which allows scientists to do temporary stints in administrative offices. For her detail, Sarah worked as a Policy Analyst in the Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). That experience convinced her to pursue policy full time. Following some immigration-related delays, Sarah joined OARC as a contractor and later became a permanent NIH employee.

After outlining her career path, Sarah provided an overview of how science policy works in the U.S. federal government, breaking the field broadly into three categories: policy for science, science for policy, and science diplomacy. According to Sarah (and as originally promulgated by Dr. Diane Hannemann, another one of this event’s panelists), the focus of different agencies roughly breaks down as follows:

This makes a lot of sense. Funding agencies like NIH and NSF are mostly concerned with how science is done, Congress is concerned with general policymaking, and the regulatory agencies both conduct research and regulate activities under their purview. Even so, Sarah did note that all these agencies do a bit of each type of policy (e.g. science diplomacy at NIH Fogarty International Center). In addition, different components of each agency have different roles. For example, individual Institutes focus more on analyzing policy for their core mission (aging at NIA, cancer at NCI, etc.), while the OSP makes policies that influence all corners of the NIH.

Sarah then described her personal duties at OSP’s Office of Scientific Management and Reporting (OSMR):
  • Coordinating NIH’s response to a directive from the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy related to scientific collections (think preserved specimens and the like)
  • Managing the placement of AAAS S&T Fellows at NIH
  • Supporting the Scientific Management Review Board, which advises the NIH Director
  • Preparing for NIH’s appropriations hearings and responding to Congressional follow-ups
  • “Whatever fires needs to be put out”
If this sounds like the kind of job for you, Sarah recommends building a professional network and developing your communication skills ASAP (perhaps by blogging!?). This sentiment was shared by all of the panelists, and it echoes advice from our previous speakers. Sarah also strongly recommends volunteering for university or professional society committees. These bodies work as deliberative teams and are therefore good preparation for the style of government work.

For more information, check out the OSP’s website and blog. If you’re interested in any of the other speakers from this panel, I refer you to the Biomedical Postdoc Program.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Event Recap: Dr. Sarah Martin, ASBMB Science Policy Fellow

by Ian McLaughlin

On February 11th, Dr. Sarah Martin, a Science Policy Fellow at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), visited Penn to chat about her experience working in science policy. As it turns out, her story is perhaps more circuitous than one might expect.

An avid equestrian, Sarah earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and a master’s degree in animal nutrition at the University of Kentucky before embarking on a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at UK’s College of Medicine. While pursuing her degrees, Sarah realized that the tenure track was not for her, and she began exploring career options using the Individual Development Plan (IDP) provided by AAAS Careers. At the top of the list: science policy.

With an exciting career option in mind, Sarah sought ways to build “translatable skills” during her Ph.D. to help her move toward science policy. She served as treasurer, and later Vice President, of UK’s Graduate Student Congress and developed her communication skills by starting her own blog and participating in ThreeMinute Thesis.  Sarah stressed the importance of communicating with non-scientists, and she highlighted how her practice paid off during Kentucky’s first-ever State Capitol Hill Day, an event that showcases Kentucky-focused scientific research to that state’s legislators.

Sarah also shared  how she got up to speed on science policy issues, becoming a “student of policy” by voraciously reading The Hill, RollCall, Politico, ScienceInsider, and ASBMB’s own PolicyBlotter. Additionally, she started to engage with peers, non-scientists, and legislators on Twitter, noting how it’s a useful tool to sample common opinions on issues related to science.  Finally, she reached out to former ASBMB fellows for advice on how to pursue a career in science policy – and they were happy to help.

Sarah then described the typical responsibilities of an ASBMB fellow, breaking them down into four categories:
  1. Research- tracking new legislation, and a daily diet of articles regarding new developments in science and policy
  2. Meetings- with legislators on Capitol Hill, staff at the NIH, partner organizations such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), and others
  3. Writing- white papers, position statements, and blog posts on everything from ASBMB’s position on gene editing to the NIH Strategic Plan for FY 2016-2020
  4. Administration- organizing and preparing for meetings, composing executive summaries, and helping to plan and organize ASBMB’s Hill Day.

Sarah also talked about her own independent project at ASBMB, a core component of each Fellowship experience. Sarah aims to update ASBMB’s Advocacy Toolkit in order to consolidate all of the resources a scientist might need to engage in successful science advocacy.

Comparing the ASBMB fellowship to similar fellowships, she noted as an advantage that there is no specific end to the fellowship, which gives Fellows plenty of time to find permanent positions that match their interests.  Sarah also noted that, compared to graduate students and postdocs, she enjoys an excellent work/life balance.

Ultimately, Sarah made it clear that she loves what she does. She closed by providing the following resources from ASBMB Science Policy Analyst Chris Pickett for anyone interested in applying for the ASBMB fellowship or pursuing a career in science policy:

Monday, December 14, 2015

WHO says bacon causes cancer?

by Neha Pancholi

Note: Here at the PSPG blog, we like to feature writing from anyone in the Penn community interested in the science policy process or science for general interest. This is the 1st in a series of posts from new authors. Interested is writing for the blog? Contact us!

The daily meat consumption in the United States exceeds that of almost every other country1. While the majority of meat consumed in the United States is red meat2, the consumption of certain red meats has decreased over the past few decades due to associated health concerns, such as heart disease and diabetes1,2. In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted another potential health concern for red meat: cancer.

The announcement concerned both red and processed meat. Red meat is defined as unprocessed muscle meat from mammals, such as beef and pork3. Processed meat– generally red meat –has been altered to improve flavor through processes such as curing or smoking3. Examples of processed meat include bacon and sausage. The WHO confirmed that processed meat causes cancer and that red meat probably causes cancer. Given the prevalence of meat in the American diet, it was not surprising that the announcement dominated headlines and social media. So how exactly did the WHO decide that processed meat causes cancer?

The announcement by the WHO followed a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is responsible for identifying and assessing suspected causes of cancer. The IARC evaluates the typical level of exposure to a suspected agent, results from existing studies, and the mechanism by which the agent could cause cancer.

After a review of existing literature, the IARC classifies the strength of scientific evidence linking the suspected cancer-causing agent to cancer. Importantly, the IARC determines only whether there is sufficient evidence that something can cause cancer. The IARC does not evaluate risk, meaning that it does not evaluate how carcinogenic something is. The IARC classifies the suspected carcinogen into one of the following categories4:
  • Group 1 – There is convincing evidence linking the agent to cancer in humans. The agent is deemed carcinogenic.
  • Group 2A – There is sufficient evidence of cancer in animal models, and there is a positive association observed in humans. However, the evidence in humans does not exclude the possibility of bias, chance, or confounding variables. The agent is deemed as a probable carcinogen.
  • Group 2B – There is a positive association in humans, but the possibility of bias, chance, or confounding variables cannot be excluded. There is inadequate evidence in animal models.
  • This category is also used when there is sufficient evidence of cancer in animal models, but there is not an association observed in humans. The agent is a possible carcinogen.
  • Group 3 – There is inadequate evidence in humans and animals. The agent cannot be classified as carcinogenic or not carcinogenic.
  • Group 4 – There is sufficient evidence to conclude that the agent is not carcinogenic in humans or in animals.
The IARC reviewed over 800 studies that examined the correlation between consumption of processed or red meat and cancer occurrence in humans. These types of studies, which examine patterns of disease in different populations, are called epidemiological studies. The studies included observations from all over the world and included diverse ethnicities and diets. The greatest weight was given to studies that followed the same group of people over time and had an appropriate control group. Most of the available data examined the association between meat consumption and colorectal cancer, but some studies also assessed the effect on stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. The majority of studies showed a higher occurrence of colorectal cancer in people whose diets included high consumption of red or processed meat compared to those who have low consumption. By comparing results from several studies, the IARC determined that for every 100 grams of red meat consumed per day, there is a 17% increase in cancer occurrence. For every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day, there is an 18% increase. The average red meat consumption for those who eat it is 50-100 grams per day.3

The IARC also reviewed studies that examined how meat could cause cancer. They found strong evidence that consumption of red or processed meat leads to the formation of known carcinogens called N-nitroso compounds in the colon. It is also known that cooked meat contains two types of compounds that are known to damage DNA, which can lead to cancer. However, there is not a direct link between eating meat containing these compounds and DNA damage in the body.3

Based on the strong evidence demonstrating a positive association with consumption of processed meat and colorectal cancer, the IARC classified processed meat as a Group 1 agent3. This means that there is sufficient evidence that consumption of processed meat causes cancer.

There was a positive association between consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer in several epidemiological studies. However, the possibility of chance or bias could not be excluded from these studies. Furthermore, the best-designed epidemiological studies did not show any association between red meat consumption and cancer. Despite the limited epidemiological evidence, there was strong mechanistic evidence demonstrating that red meat consumption results in the production of known carcinogens in the colon. Therefore, red meat was classified as a probable carcinogen (Group 2A)3.

It will be interesting to see how the WHO announcement affects red meat consumption in the United States and worldwide. But before swearing off processed and red meat forever, there are a few things to consider.

First, it is important to bear in mind that agents classified within the same group have varying carcinogenic potential. Processed meat was classified as a Group 1 agent, which is the same classification for tobacco smoke. However, estimates by the Global Burden of Disease Project attribute approximately 34,000 cancer deaths per year to consumption of processed meat5. In contrast, one million cancer deaths per year are due to tobacco smoke5. While the evidence linking processed meat to cancer is strong, the risk of cancer due to processed meat consumption appears to be much lower than other known carcinogens. Second, the IARC did not evaluate studies that compared vegetarian or poultry diets to red meat consumption5. Therefore, it is unknown whether vegetarian or poultry diets are associated with fewer cases of cancer. Finally, red meat is high in protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B123. Thus, while high red meat consumption is associated with some diseases, there are also several health benefits of consuming red meat in moderation. Ultimately, it will be important to balance the risks and benefits of processed and red meat consumption.

3Bouvard et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology, 2015. 16(16): 1599-1600.