According to the World Health Organization (WHO), consumption of just 50 grams of processed meat per day increases an individual’s risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Processed meat – including hot dogs, bacon and sausages – has officially been labelled as carcinogenic to humans.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), was the group responsible for reviewing the safety of consuming various meat products. Processed meats have now been classified as Group 1 carcinogens – alongside tobacco products and asbestos – for which there is ‘sufficient evidence’ of cancer-causing effects.
The organization also classified red meat into their carcinogenic Group 2A list, as it may also contain cancer-causing compounds. The IARC made these new classifications based on analysis of 800 studies testing the link between meat consumption and over twelve different types of cancer.
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” said the head of the IARC Monographs Program, Dr. Kurt Straif. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
While a strong link between processed meats and colorectal cancer was found, the researchers found only ‘limited evidence’ that red meat – including beef, pork and lamb – is carcinogenic. The IARC also identified weaker links between processed meats and development of pancreatic and prostate cancer, as well as inconclusive evidence that they may be associated with stomach cancer.
Though the IARC has classified processed meats in the same category as tobacco, the WHO is not suggesting that these meat products are more damaging to health than smoking. Even so, the report has caused upset within the meat industry, with the North American Meat Institute going so far as to say the IARC-produced report, “defies common sense.”
According to Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC, “These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat. At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat, and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”
According to the Global Burden of Disease Project – an international group of over 1,000 researchers – 34,000 global cancer deaths every year can be attributed to poor diets with a high proportion of processed meats. In comparison, the number of smoking-related deaths comes in around 1 million per year.
- Bacon and other processed meats can cause cancer, experts say – http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/10/26/us-health-meat-idUKKCN0SK16P20151026
- IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat – http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf