The World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency announced today that consuming processed meats can cause cancer.
WHO, in conjunction with the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR), says that ham, hot dogs and other processed meats can lead to colorectal cancer. The agencies also say that eating red meat can cause not only colorectal cancer, but other types such as pancreatic and prostate, although on a lesser scale. Specifically, the IACR says that each 1.75 ounce portion of processed meat eaten daily increases one’s risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
In this instance, WHO and IACR define processed meat as meat that’s been salted, cured, fermented or smoked. It also includes other processes that enhance meat flavor and improves preservation. This also includes sausage, bacon, canned meat and beef jerky.
However, according to Kurt Straif of the IACR, the risk is minimal but elevates based on the amount of processed meat a person consumes.
Despite this news, the IARC says that they do still stress the nutritional value of red meat, however, governments are responsible for balancing the risks and benefits by providing “the best possible dietary recommendations.” Red meat--which WHO describes as "all mammalian meat, including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat"--should not be completely avoided, though, says WHO. "Eating meat has known health benefits. Many national health recommendations advise people to limit intake of processed meat and red meat, which are linked to increased risks of death from heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.
The North American Meat Institute calls the IACR’s findings “dramatic”, adding that “numerous studies [show] no correlation between meat and cancer and many more studies [show] the many health benefits of balanced diets that include meat.”
The findings have also been shunned by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The IARC’s findings are based on 22 international experts’ analysis of 800 studies that previously looked at possible links between various types of meats and cancers on a global scale.
Sign up for Food Safety Magazine’s bi-weekly emails!