Consumption of processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon and deli meats increases the risk of cancer—and eating red meat probably causes cancer as well—the World Health Organization said on Monday, Oct. 26.
After a thorough review, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of WHO, has classified processed meats—meats that have been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation—as “carcinogenic to humans.” The agency was clear in its message adding experts concluded each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
The agency also classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” citing limited evidence it causes cancer, but strong evidence supporting red meat has a carcinogenic effect.
“These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit the intake of meat,” says Christopher Wild, director of IARC. “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 to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) calls the news a “dramatic and alarmist overreach,” adding the decision defies common sense and a number of studies that show the value and health benefits of eating meat in addition to studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer.
“It was clear sitting in the IARC meeting that many of the panelists were aiming for a specific result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data,” says Betsy Booren, NAMI vice president of scientific affairs. “They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome. Red and processed meats are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard.’ Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer. IARC’s decision simply cannot be applied to people’s health because it considers just one piece of the health puzzle: theoretical hazards. Risks and benefits must be considered together before telling people what to eat, drink, drive or breathe or where to work.”