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John Block: Meat – A Carcinogen

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Pick up the paper, turn on the TV, and someone pretending to know what they are talking about will be telling us what to eat and what not to eat.

I remember 30 years ago when I was Secretary of Agriculture and a number of food experts were waving their arms and screaming – we shouldn’t eat bacon because it is a carcinogen. Don’t eat butter – it’s bad for you. Margarine is so much better.

Today, they say butter is good and margarine – not so good.

These days, the volume of sound about what to eat and what not to eat is deafening. They want to label everything – not just food sold in the supermarket, but also the restaurants.

“The consumer has a right to know.” Okay. With the growing obesity problem, knowing the number of calories in a serving can be useful.  However, there is so much information and talk that I think the consumer is confused; and, consequently, isn’t going to listen to anything.

Recently, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Agency for Research on Cancer came out with a report stating that processed meat is a carcinogen. Did you know that the same international organization previously had also classified coffee, sunlight, alcoholic beverages, and being a barber as carcinogenic? I have my marching orders. I’m not going to be a barber. I should stay inside, out of the sun. I can’t have a beer or a glass of wine. No coffee. And, of course, no red meat. That’s the safe thing to do.

Here is what National Pork Producers President Dr. Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from South Carolina, had to say: “My mother told me everything in moderation. She was very smart and smart people know that you don’t eat a pound of anything everyday. So take this report with a grain of salt, but not too much salt because that would be bad for you.”

The WHO’s report has been met with severe skepticism and criticism. WHO has now moved to clarify their directive. They say it’s okay to eat that hot dog, bacon, and burger. Just don’t eat too much. I think we already knew that.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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