THE WORLD Health Organisation has classified the consumption of processed red meat as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic”.
Experts at WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IACR) said there was sufficient evidence that eating meats like bacon and sausages causes colorectal cancer.
Just 50g – about two slices of bacon – daily can increase the risk of developing the disease by 18%.
IARC director Dr Christopher Wild said the findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat. However, he also noted the nutritional value of red meat.
Processed meat will now be placed in the “group 1” list of carcinogens, alongside asbestos, diesel fumes and smoking. This, however, doesn’t mean they are as harmful. Red meat will go into “group 2A”, alongside the pesticide glyphosate (though glyphosate’s classification is being debated in Europe).
The Department of Health advises that consumption of red and processed meat should be limited to 70g a day. Some 58% of men and 23% of women exceed this.
Modelling by Oxford University has shown that switching to diets in which meat is eaten once or twice a week could reduce deaths from heart disease by 31,000, deaths from cancer by 9,000 and deaths from strokes by 5,000 each year. Combined, this could save the NHS £1.2 billion a year.
The environmental benefits of reducing – rather than eliminating – meat consumption are well documented. The message from environmental groups is to eat less, but better meat.