Cuba, Processed Meats and Cancer

Irina Echarry

According to the new report, processed meats and cigarettes share the top group where they classify carcinegens for humans.

HAVANA TIMES — At the close of October, a startling piece of news made its way across the globe: the World Health Organization (WHO), on the basis of a report issued by its International Cancer Research Agency, classified processed meats as carcinogens and warned that red meats are probably the same.

As far as we know, this information has not been published by any Cuban newspaper, nor has it been divulged on television (the two media people use to keep abreast of developments). Nearly no one on the island has found out that these types of meats are being associated with greater incidences of colorectal, stomach and other forms of cancer. As such, very few people are talking about the news on the street, and those who do repeat phrases such as “everything gives you cancer these days,” “we all gotta go some way” and others.

In a country where most people are denied access to the Internet, only the island’s online publications divulged this important news item. How did they do it? In a vague manner, without connecting it to our day to day and neglecting to mention the immense quantities of processed meats that the people of Cuba consume. Red meats may be less worrying for us, for their prices in Cuba are for the most part prohibitive, making their inclusion in daily diets more difficult.

The Cuban government’s attitude towards the spread of cancer is contradictory: it spends millions on biotechnological research aimed at finding a cure and puts aside prevention. Less deadly diseases receive excessive attention. We are left with the impression that they regard cancer as something inevitable or curable only through sophisticated treatment.

If the Ministry of Public Health makes no pronouncements, does not divulge the results of these new studies through the media and does not implement measures, few people will become aware of the problem. Habit, need and lack of knowledge do not make good bedfellows.

Evolution of cancer patientsamong young people.  Charts: Erasmo Calzadilla

ither at home or at school, our teenagers have been eating hot dogs and insipid cold cuts for years. There are some who eat nothing but, as it is hard to lose one’s taste for something that marked your diet for many years. For Cuban mothers, finding a package of wieners is synonymous with tranquility.

When afternoon classes began at senior secondary schools in 2002, the “school snack” program was implemented. These snacks consist of hot dogs or baloney and soy yogurt. That is to say, a great many Cuban teenagers are receiving a significant load of carcinogenic products in their daily school diets, through processed meats and the glyphosate found in soy yogurt (which is quite likely a transgenic product).

According to these new studies, consuming 50 grams of processed meats on a daily basis increases the risks of colrectal cancer by 18 percent, provided this intake is continuous and sustained for years. According to recent estimates by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, an independent academic research organization, 34,000 cancer deaths around the world every year can be attributed to diets containing these types of meats.

It’s interesting to note that intestinal, stomach and other cancers of the digestive system isn’t spreading among Cuba’s young and is doing so among the elderly. As we know, this is a cumulative disease. Mortality rates in all age groups have been growing exponentially for some time now.

Last year, intestinal cancer was the second most common cause of death in the country.

In Cuba, both the government and private industries produce and market processed meats on a massive scale. They should at least inform the public about the possible consequences. The Ministry of Public Health is duty-bound to alert consumers to the danger, or, failing this, offer solid arguments that there is no cause for concern.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

One thought on “Cuba, Processed Meats and Cancer

  • November 5, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    18% increase in the chance of cancer sounds bad. Until you realize that the base rate is 5% and this raises it to about 6%. However the real problem is more likely the nitrates in the meats which act as preservatives. When exposed to high heat such as frying or a fire then you create nitrosamines. There are many different types of nitrosamines and most of them are potent carcinogens. They are among the main carcinogens in tobacco smoke, for example.
    Because most bacon, sausages and processed meat tend to be high in sodium nitrite and they’re high protein foods (a source of amino acids), exposing them to high heat creates the perfect conditions for nitrosamine formation. Nitrates occur naturally in vegetables a higher levels but rarely get exposed to high heat. The resulting chemical then are beneficial. So are processed meats a carcinogen? It depends on how you prepare them to eat. The preservatives in processed meats give me headaches. But you…? the real rise of 1% is negligible unless you eat it everyday. If I could I would eat the processed meats if I liked them and try to use all food choices in moderation.

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