The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), has officially classified processed and red meat products like bacon and salami “carcinogenic to humans”.
A total of 22 scientists from 10 countries convened at the IARC Monographs Program to review the evidence, which was then published in an article in The Lancet.
Hearty meat-lovers should beware the WHO now places processed meat in the same category as smoking and asbestos, based on the correlation with cancer, but did note this does not mean they are as equally hazardous.
The WHO defines processed meat as any kind of cured, salted, or smoked meat generally containing pork or beef and sometimes poultry.
While the association of red meat and carcinogens was seen primarily for colorectal cancer (a 50gram portion of processed meat daily increases risk by 18%), the link was also observed for pancreatic and prostate cancers.
Naturally the direct risk of contracting colorectal cancer from eating processed meat is relatively small for an individual, the risk inevitably increasing with the amount of meat consumed.
According to Kurt Straif, MD, Head of IARC Monographs Program, “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
Christopher Wild, Director of IARC understands the implications this report has for managing public health concerns. “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,” said Wild.