Processed Meat is a Major Cause of Cancer, Says WHO

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

According to a report by the World Health Organisation, sausages, bacon and ham are ranked as a major cause of cancer alongside cigarettes.

The report suggests that each 50g of processed meat consumed per day (the equivalent of less than 2 slices of bacon or one sausage) increases the risk of developing bowel cancer by 18%.

Global health experts have listed processed meat as the highest of five possible rankings of cancer-causing substances, shared with cigarettes, arsenic, asbestos and alcohol.

Fresh red meat was ranked as a ‘probable’ carcinogen, on the next level.

Made by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the classifications mean processed meat is officially thought to be carcinogenic to humans.

The report follows a meeting between scientists from ten nations, including Britain, who have reviewed all the evidence available.

The findings are welcomed by cancer charities.

They said that people who eat a lot of processed meats should cut back, although the occasional bacon sandwich wouldn’t cause much harm.

Experts have stressed that although processed meats have been classed in the highest category of risk alongside smoking, it does not mean that they are equally as dangerous as cigarettes.

The classifications describe the strength of scientific evidence that a substance can cause cancer, rather than the risk level attached to it.

Based in France, Dr Kurt Straif of the International Agency for Research on Cancer said that the risk of developing bowel cancer due to an individual’s processed meat consumption still remains small, but it does increase with the amount of meat eaten.

The IARC includes pork, lamb and beef under red meat, which has been classified as a probable carcinogen in its group 2A list. This also contains the active ingredient in many types of weedkiller, glyphosate.

The lower classification for fresh red meat showed limited evidence that it could cause cancer. The IARC mainly discovered links with bowel cancer, but also found associations with prostate and pancreatic cancer.

In the past, the WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) has warned of ‘strong evidence’ suggesting that eating large quantities of red meat can cause cancer.

In 2009, the WCRF recommended eating a maximum of 70g of processed meat a week (the equivalent of 3 rashers of bacon) and said that children should not consume any processed meat at all.

Cancer Research UK’s Professor Tim Key said the links are backed by significant evidence. He said the ruling shouldn’t mean cutting all meats out of the diet.

He said people might want to think about cutting down if they eat a lot of meat, perhaps choosing fish or bean salads over sausages and BLTs.

However, Professor Key said that eating a bacon sandwich every now and then won’t cause much harm and healthy diets are based on moderation.