Where’s the beef?

In the 1973 movie Sleeper, Woody Allen plays a health food store owner who is cryogenically frozen after a botched ulcer procedure and is awakened 200 years later, unwrapped like a TV dinner. He asks for “wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger’s milk” for his breakfast, which bemuses the two doctors overseeing his care.

“Oh, yes,” says one doctor, as he smokes a cigarette. “Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.”

You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?” asks his colleague.

 Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true,” he replies.

 Incredible,” she says, shaking her head.

Meat lovers are surely hoping some conversation like that occurs in the not-too-distant future after the World Health Organization issued a warning that processed meats such as bologna, ham, sausages, bacon – even hot dogs, for crying out loud – cause colorectal cancer. And, for good measure, WHO says red meat is “probably” carcinogenic, too.

To make matters worse, doctors in San Francisco released a study that they say shows sugar is toxic as well. It prompted Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson to observe that new research suggests all of the foods that make life worth living are probably carcinogenic.

It’s not like the findings are new; as the Woody Allen movie shows, there have been health concerns about such foods for decades. The American Cancer Society has been urging people to scale back on their intake of red and processed meat since 2002. But what is disconcerting in the new report is the lumping of processed meats in the same category with such carcinogens as radiation, asbestos, tobacco, and alcohol. The findings by WHO researchers placed processed meats into the organization’s Group 1 category with those other substances.

But experts point out the risk of cancer from scarfing down a dog at Fenway Park is much less than that of, say, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for years. Smoking causes an estimated 1 million annual deaths worldwide, while diets high in processed meats could contribute to 30,000 colorectal cancer deaths per year, based on the report estimates, though the number could be far less.

“I think it’s very important that we don’t terrorize people into thinking that they should not eat any red meat at all,” Dr. John Ioannidis, chairman of disease prevention at Stanford University, tells the New York Times. “It would be an exaggeration to say based on this that no one should eat red or processed meat.”

The WHO report is an amalgamation of hundreds of other cancer studies from around the world. The report focused on processed red meat and said additives such as salt, nitrates, and other preservatives were the main culprits. But those same chemicals are used in processed deli meats such as turkey and chicken, yet those were not mentioned in the report.

But there is concern that the WHO findings will impact government health and safety guidelines. While the WHO report offers no dietary structures involving the consumption of meat, the US Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing its nutritional recommendations to revamp the “food pyramid.” The agency is under heavy pressure from both sides but nutrition experts say this may give the USDA some shield to resist the push from the meat industry, whose trade association labeled the WHO report a “huge overreach.” Officials from the industry say the report overlooks the benefits such as iron, protein, and vitamins from a diet that includes meat.

But those on the side of caution say the report could be an eye-opener.

“Maybe we can expand our horizons this year, start looking at a more varied diet,” Joan Salge Blake, a nutrition professor at Boston University, told the Boston Globe, suggesting increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. “This may be a good time to start thinking about incorporating fish, or go meatless for a day. . . . Mix this all up so we’re not eating a large percentage of processed meats.”

As Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, succinctly points out on Twitterit will take more than the WHO report to rip the prosciutto and mozzarella out of hungry customers’ hands.

Nick Bova, whose family owns a bakery in the North End, tells the Globe he doubts this will change the lunchtime orders much at all. “If I put a sign up that said this causes cancer, people wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “I think they’d buy two sandwiches.”




Inspector General Glenn Cunha condemns Green Monster and Yawkey Way deals the Boston Redevelopment Authority negotiated with the Red Sox, but doesn’t push for unwinding them. (CommonWealth)

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg gives a preview of unclaimed items that will be auctioned off on eBay this weekend. (WBUR)

A bill by state Rep. Alan Silvia of Fall River would allow cities and towns with medical marijuana dispensaries to impose a local tax on the sales. (Herald News)

Auditor Suzanne Bump says she’d like to have access to more data on how the state film tax credit is used. (Boston Herald)


Salem residents pack a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on a proposed assisted living facility, but the presentations took so long that few in the audience were able to voice their opinion. (Salem News)

Milton Town Meeting voters approved a proposal to increase the number of members on the Board of Selectmen from three to five. (Patriot Ledger)

State and federal grants will pay for security cameras at ports along the Massachusetts coast. (Gloucester Times)


Springfield city officials send MGM Springfield’s casino design back to the company marked “incomplete” and accompanied by additional questions about its plans to make significant architectural changes to the planned gaming facility. (MassLive)


House Republican leaders strike a budget deal with the White House. (Time) How John Boehner saved Paul Ryan, his almost certain successor, from becoming Boehner 2.0. (TPM)

WTF is on a collision course with Earth. (The Independent)

Federal investigators are probing money laundering by police in Bal Harbour, Florida. (Governing)

China warns the US about warships patrolling near its artificial islands under construction in the South China Sea. (USA Today)


Jeb Bush, lagging in the polls, is also being outspent in the early primary and caucus states. (Boston Globe)

Conservative Republicans are hailing presidential contender Ben Carson‘s statement comparing abortion to slavery. (National Review)

Challenger Maria Giesta slammed New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell for the stalled reform of the city’s schools, citing MCAS scores that placed 10th graders next to last in the state. (Standard-Times)

Boston City Council challenger Annissa Essabai-George was behind on both business and home property taxes, but now says she’s up to date in her payments. (Boston Globe)


UMass Memorial Health Care is moving 500 jobs to downtown Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)

Secretary of State William Galvin says Fidelity Investments has improperly provided a haven for 13 unregistered investment advisers to make trades. (Boston Herald)

A Newton developer putting up pricey condos in Waltham is facing criticism over the dilapidated condition of a public housing project it owns in New Haven, Connecticut. (Boston Globe)

REI, the outdoor gear retailer, says it won’t open on Black Friday. (USA Today)

Vertex is investing $105 million in a startup that has developed a gene splicing technique that could be a boon to drug development. (Boston Globe)

Biotech is coming to the Berkshires. (Berkshire Eagle)


Some of the state’s leading educators back the PARCC test even as state education officials seem to be moving toward a hybrid model that combines PARCC and MCAS. (CommonWealth)

The Boston school department and the city’s teachers union strike an agreement on severance packages for “sidelined” teachers who have been without classroom assignments. (Boston Globe)

Matthew Malone, the former Brockton schools superintendent who served as education secretary under former governor Deval Patrick, has been appointed interim superintendent of Saugus public schools. (The Enterprise)

A study finds there is no measurable bump in charitable giving when states cut back on public education spending and, in fact, those actions trigger bigger gaps between rich and poor as schools in affluent communities are more likely to be recipients of donations. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

The Berkshire Eagle decries “a uniquely American problem”: A Pittsfield middle school student brings a loaded gun to school.


Deb Fastino of Raise Up Massachusetts argues for paid family and medical leave in Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

Against seemingly long odds, Rutland, Vermont, is making a real dent in the scourge of opioid addiction that has ravaged the small city. (Boston Globe)

Globe columnist Kevin Cullen says Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill that would allow for involuntary confinement of overdose victims for 72 hours makes a lot of sense.


Uber is touting itself as a designated driver option for drunken college students as it looks to soften its image and expand its reach. (New York Times)


He may be down, but don’t count Jim Gordon out. So says the would-be developer of Cape Wind, who claims recent developments, including the announced closure of the Pilgrim nuclear plant, make him more hopeful about his trouble-plagued project. (Boston Globe)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial says community officials trying to block a proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline are in a David and Goliath struggle.

Marshfield voters rejected a proposal at a Town Meeting to buy flood-prone homes with federal money. (Patriot Ledger)

The horrible winter we barely endured? It could have been much worse. (Boston Globe)

The coastal erosion that imperils Cape Cod is accelerated by climate change. (Cape Cod Times)


 President Obama is expected to make his case to overhaul the country’s sentencing laws in a speech today to the International Association of Police Chiefs meeting in Washington. (New York Times)

The Rockingham County House of Correction in New Hampshire was looking to expand, but an inmate diversion program not only made a new wing unnecessary but also allowed the prison to close down a wing. (Eagle-Tribune)

The federal judge who presided over his trial may release information tomorrow on the prison conditions attached to the confinement of convicted Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (Boston Herald)


Eileen McNamara laments the embarrassingly indulgent news coverage of Catholic affairs. She singles out the Boston Globe and its Crux website for cornering the market on “papal pandering.” (WBUR)

Greater Boston featured a Durfee High School reunion of sorts, as Fall River ex-pats Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary; former NBA player Chris Herren, a recovering addict; and Margery Eagan, media maven, talked about their areas of expertise.