After reviewing an assessment of the best available scientific evidence, the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that the consumption of processed meats can increase a person’s chances of developing certain cancers. WHO, the Geneva-based public health arm of the United Nations, was following a recommendation from its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), whose working group of 22 members from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 scientific studies. group classified the consumption of red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” IARC stated in an announcement on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. This decision was “based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.” “This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer,” stated IARC, which is headquartered in Lyon, France. The group noted that red meat and processed meat consumption varies greatly between different countries, and that the risk increased with the amount eaten per person. The experts concluded that each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. A 50-gram serving of bacon is smaller than two slices, while an eight-ounce steak equals 225 grams. “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,” says Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Programme, adding, “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.” The cancer research group also stated that there was a balance to be struck between scientific information and dietary advice. ”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” said Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC. “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.” Red meat was defined as beef, pork, veal and lamb. Processed meat includes hot dogs, salami, bacon, sausages, corned beef, jerky, ham and other meats which have been smoked, cured, or had salt or preservatives added to extend the shelf life or change the taste. The North American Meat Institute called the IARC report a “dramatic and alarmist overreach” and stressed that many studies show there are health benefits from eating meat and others show no correlation between meat consumption and cancer. “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. He added, “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.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)