Brain and Body

Bacon and Hot Dogs Could Cause Cancer, WHO Warns

October 26, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Bacon sizzling in a frying pan
Photo credit: cyclonebill/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Processed and red meats rank alongside smoking as cancer-causers, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.

Shockingly, meats like bacon, ham, and sausages rank in the same category of cancer-causing carcinogens as smoking, alcohol, asbestos, and arsenic, according to a report released today (Monday 26) by the World Health Organization. The press release declared that there was sufficient evidence to classify processed meats as group 1 carcinogens, meaning the substance is definitely toxic for humans.

Red meat, only slightly safer than processed, is classified as group 2A carcinogens, which signifies a probable risk to humans. The report by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed 800 studies on cancer in humans, and the research team also looked at  epidemiological data on the consumption of processed and red meats.

SEE ALSO: Does Red Wine Prevent Cancer?

The findings show how much the risk of certain cancers increases based on the amount of daily consumption — for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily, which is equal to about two slices of ham or one sausage, the risk of colon cancer increases by 18 percent. The organization hopes to steer individuals toward better dietary decisions with this new data.

“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,” Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme, said in the report. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

As reported by the Guardian, the findings were welcomed by cancer researchers, but triggered angry responses from the meat industry as well as the scientists it funds. They furiously rejected any comparison between meat and cigarettes.

Betsy Booren, The North American Meat Institute’s vice-president of scientific affairs, said that the IARC panellists “tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.” She said red and processed meats are among 940 supposedly hazardous agents reviewed by the IARC, and that the only substance the organization found to not cause cancer was a chemical in yoga pants.

“The IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t 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),” Booren argued, according to the Guardian.

On the other side of the spectrum, Professor Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, supports the IARC’s claim that there’s ample evidence to classify processed meat as a cancer causer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer. “This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you eat 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,” he advises.

Even if those tied to the meat industry refute WHO’s report that processed and red meats increase the risk of certain types of cancer, the meats are still linked to a number of other health problems, like heart disease and obesity. So while this news may come as a grave disappointment to bacon and sausage lovers all over the world, like most things, processed and red meats are best in moderation.

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