World Health Organization: Processed Meats Cause Cancer

New study places bacon, hotdogs in same category as smoking tobacco and asbestos.

A bad day for bacon: A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it and its fellow processed meats as carcinogenic to humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the WHO, evaluated more than 800 studies and found there to be “sufficient evidence” that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. 

The processed meat category includes bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages, and corned beef, according to the WHO.

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The same study found that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  

Each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the odds of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, according to the study. 

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” said Dr. Kurt Straif, the head of the IARC Monographs Programme. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The evaluation places processed meat in what the WHO classifies as a Group 1 carcinogen—the same level as smoking tobacco and asbestos. Still, the organization cautioned against viewing the consumption of meat as equal in risk to the carcinogens it is now placed with. In a Q&A released with the report, the WHO explained that the classifications describe the level of scientific evidence, not the level of risk. 

About 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat, according to the same Q&A. 

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The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) responded quickly, calling the report an “alarmist overreach” by the IARC.

“Red and processed meat are among 940 substances reviewed by IARC 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,” said Barry Carpenter, NAMI president and CEO, in a statement. “Scientific evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods and that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to good health.”

The IARC study was published in the journal Lancet Oncology

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