Bacon, burgers and hot dogs are as big a cancer threat as cigarettes, the World Health Organization announced today. A new WHO report has classified processed meat as carcinogenic alongside arsenic and asbestos.
Officials said just 50g of processed meat a day – less than one sausage – increases the risk of bowel cancer by almost a fifth. The report also classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic.”
Experts are now urging the public to avoid processed meat whenever possible. The WHO report could lead to new dietary guidelines and warning labels on packs of bacon.
Dr. Kurt Straif from the WHO said, “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
But Professor Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said, “We’ve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence. This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT. Eating a bacon bap every once in a while isn’t going to do much harm – having a healthy diet is all about moderation.”
Links between processed meats and bowel cancer, one of the biggest global killers, are particularly strong. It is estimated that half of cases could be prevented by healthier lifestyles. The WHO has definitely stated that processed meat causes cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends avoiding processed meat altogether. Processed meat includes anything that has had chemicals added to it to help preserve it such as ham, salami and chorizo. It also includes any sausages and burgers that are not home made.
Dr. Rachel Thompson, head of research interpretation at the World Cancer Research Fund UK said, “If people can avoid it, (processed meat) they should. It’s better to get what you need from fresh red meat. Processed meat contains more salt and fat and there is likely to be a higher cancer risk from the actual processing. We think it better that people eat fresh red meat because it’s much better nutritionally and to limit processed red meat as much as possible. If there’s someone who has a bacon sandwich every morning and a ham sandwich for lunch, they are at higher risk.”
The WHO report will undoubtedly have huge repercussions for the meat industry. Naturally, the meat industry was quick to dismiss the warning claiming it had been “rigged” and was not based on proper evidence. Dr. Betsy Booren, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at the North American Meat Institute said, “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome. Followers of the Mediterranean diet eat double the recommended amount of processed meats. People in countries where the Mediterranean diet is followed, like Spain, Italy and France, have some of the longest lifespans in the world and excellent health.”
And the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said the report defied “both common sense and dozens of studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer.”