This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio.
Tuesday was a slow day for cattle sales at the Milano Livestock Exchange in Milam County. A day before, the World Health Organization had released a report linking the consumption of red meat to an increase in colorectal cancer. The report classified hot dogs and bacon as cancer-causing foods, as dangerous to health as cigarettes and asbestos.
Auctioneer Ronnie Jordan and his family own the sale barn. Jordan says the price of beef plummeted on the Commodities Exchange when the report was released and it’s continued to drop since.
Looking at his smartphone, Jordan did a quick check on the latest price of beef.
“Here’s feeder cattle here down $2.85, fat cattle down over $3.00,” Jordan says. “So that causes the market all over the United States to drop just because of that report literally cost millions and millions of dollars to farmers and rancher. If we put out a report that cost their livelihood it would be a bad deal.”
The World Health Organization report, published in the medical journal Lancet, isn’t new information. It’s a summary of over 800 studies from the past 20 years that have looked at the effects of eating red meat. The team of international researchers published the information with the prestigious WHO to draw attention internationally, so global dietary guidelines for eating meat will be established.
The study says individuals have an 18 percent greater chance of developing cancer if they eat 50 grams of processed beef like bacon or lunch meat every day. Fifty grams is about one hot dog.
As he rounds up the cattle he’s bought at the auction rancher Dwight Kelley recalled how other reports on red meat have hurt cattle prices.
“It always dropped the price on it, just like the Mad Cow Disease, come along that time. It cost cattle raisers billions of dollars,” Kelley says.
Kelley is referring to talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s comments in 1998 about red meat and Mad Cow disease. He says beef prices dropped to a ten year low. Texas cattlemen sued Winfrey for defamation, but lost their case in court.
Some of the ranchers at the Milano cattle auction are talking about legal action again, though just who they’d sue isn’t clear. Cattle owner Ronnie Jordan says he’s had enough.
“You have some guy out there putting out a report about weenies are worse than a cigarette, they need to slap a lawsuit on him and say ‘Hey guy, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ That would stop some of this,” Jordan says.
Texas Farm Bureau and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller have also lambasted the WHO report.
James Jirasek wants Miller and the state to go further to counter the report and promote Texas cattle.
“They need to push the beef industry a little bit more, because the people have stopped eating the beef… and I don’t know why it’s impacted the prices but it is,” Jirasek says.
At the end of the sale, ranchers hopping into their pickups talk about starting a statewide petition demanding the World Health Organization and Lancet retract or revise their report on red meat.
The billion dollar cattle industry in Texas is the top exporter of beef in the U.S. and ranchers in Milam County say their livelihood is on the line.