Processed meat rank alongside smoking as cancer causes aEUR” WHO

UN health body says bacon, sausages and ham among most carcinogenic substances along with cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and arsenic

Bacon, ham and sausages rank alongside cigarettes as a major cause of cancer, the World Health Organisation has said, placing cured and processed meat in the same category as asbestos, alcohol, arsenic and tobacco.

The report from the WHOs International Agency for Research on Cancer said there was enough proof to rank processed meat as group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer.

It places red meat in group 2A, as likely carcinogenic to humen. Eating red meat is also linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer, the IARC says.

The IARCs experts concluded that each 50 -gram( 1.8 -ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increased health risks of colorectal cancer by 18%.

For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their intake of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat devoured, said Dr Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs programme. In opinion of the large number of people who devour processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health significance.

The decision from the IARC, after a year of deliberations by international scientists, will be welcomed by cancer researchers but it triggered an immediate and furious response from the industry, and the scientists it funds, who rejected any comparison between cigarettes and meat.

Chart showing per capita meat consumption

What we do know is that avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer, said Robert Pickard, a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and emeritus prof of neurobiology at Cardiff University. The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes..

But the writing has been on the wall for ham, bacon and sausages for several years. The World Cancer Research Fund has long been advising people that processed meat is a cancer hazard. It advises eating products such as ham, bacon and salami as little as possible and having no more than 500 g a week of red meat, including beef, pork and lamb.

Prof Tim Key, Cancer Research UKs epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: Cancer Research UK supports IARCs decision that theres strong enough proof to classify processed meat as a cause of cancer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer.

Weve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.

This decision doesnt mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you feed lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT.

The statement from the IARC, published as an article in the periodical Lancet Oncology, substantially toughens the line, especially against processed meat. But while cancer scientists care about the risks of eating too much meat, some nutritionists maintain that the extra risk is relatively small and that meat has other benefits.

Dr Elizabeth Lund an independent consultant in nutritional and gastrointestinal health, and a former research leader at the Institute of Food Research, who acknowledges she did some work for the meat industry in 2010 said red meat was linked to about three extra cases of bowel cancer per 100,000 adults in developed countries.

A much bigger risk factor is obesity and absence of exert, she said. Overall, I feel that eating meat once a day combined with plenty of fruit, vegetables and cereal fibre, plus exercising and weight control, will allow for a low risk of colorectal cancer and a more balanced diet.

Prof Ian Johnson, emeritus fellow at the Institute of Food Research, also said the effect was small. It is surely very inappropriate to suggest that any adverse effect of bacon and sausages on health risks of bowel cancer is comparable to the dangers of tobacco smoke, which is loaded with known chemical carcinogens and increases the likelihood of lung cancer in cigarette smokers by around twentyfold.

The North American Meat Institute said defining red meat as a cancer hazard defied common sense.

It was clear, sitting in the IARC meeting, that many of the panellists were aiming for a particular result despite old, weak, inconsistent, self-reported intake data, said Betsy Booren, the institutes vice-president of scientific affairs. They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.

Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by the IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical hazard. Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by the IARC not to cause cancer.

The IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but dont breathe air( class 1 carcinogen ), sit near a sun-filled window( class 1 ), apply aloe vera( class 2B) if you get a sunburn, drink wine or coffee( class 1 and class 2B ), or eat grilled food( class 2A ). And if you are a hairdresser or do shift run( both class 2A ), you should seek a new career.

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