Cancer agency of WHO, classifies processed meat as carcinogenic to humans

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans. They have said there is sufficient evidence that the consumption of processed meat causes bowel (colorectal) cancer and can be associated with pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The NHS reports about one in every 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime.

Red meat refers to all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse  and goat. Processed meat refers to meat that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked, other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation. Examples of processed meat are hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, biltong or beef jerky and canned meat.

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.”

Prof Tim Key, from the Cancer Research UK and the University of Oxford, said: “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. Eating a bacon bap every once in a while isn’t going to do much harm – having a healthy diet is all about moderation.”

Friends of the Earth’s senior food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said: “This should be a wake-up call that our diets urgently need to change.  Evidence shows that high meat diets not only harm our health, they damage our environment too. Experts have warned that unless we eat less meat globally, we will fail to meet our climate change targets.

“Polls show that consumers are willing to eat less meat, and now this research should shake the Government into bold action. The Government must do more to help people access healthy, sustainable diets, with less and better quality meat.”

The FT reports that the meat: “[i]ndustry [is] set to reject WHO’s processed meat carcinogens ruling.”

The Meat Advisory Panel said: “avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer.” They argued that the real focus should be on alcohol, smoking and body weight.