Processed meat ‘as carcinogenic as cigarettes’, says WHO

Put the bacon down and step away from the sausages – because the World Health Organisation has warned they are just as hazardous to the health as smoking.

Cigarette sliced like salami, on white background

A report by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorised cured and processed meat a group 1 carcinogen on a par with cigarettes and tobacco.

Just 50 g of processed meat a day – one sausage or two rashers of bacon – is enough to increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer by almost a fifth (18 per cent), according to the report.

That also puts bangers, ham and bacon in the same bracket as asbestos, alcohol and arsenic.

Red meat – beef, lamb and pork – has been designated a group 2A “probable carcinogen”.

Dr Kurt Straif of the IARC said while the individual risk of developing colorectal cancer because of processed meat remained small, “this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed”.

He added: “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The WHO’s momentous decision to highlight the risks of processed meat is good news for the health of the global population, and follows a review by scientists from 10 nations of all the available evidence.

A steady stream of reports and research papers over recent years have underlined the link between cured and processed meat and several different kinds of cancer.

In 2011 the authoritative Continuous Update Project (CUP) Expert Panel report concluded there was “convincing” evidence that high consumption of processed and red meat was linked to colorectal cancer.

And in 2013, a Europe-wide study of almost half a million people showed that eating a lot of processed meat increased the risk of dying from conditions such as cancer.

According to the IARC report, red meat is slightly less harmful to health and is only “probably carcinogenic”. Studies have also shown it is linked to a range of other conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.

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  • Matt

    The presentation of the risks of meat vs smoking here is really misleadingly. IARC concluded that the strength of the evidence linking processed meat to cancer was as strong as the evidence for smoking and that’s all the review aims to show. Looking at the increased risk smoking causes for a whole range of diseases shows that it’s much more harmful. I’m really disappointed to see the facts presented so poorly here, great to promote eating less meat but do it with the facts. Please correct your mistakes!
    You can get a much more accurate take on this from Cancer Research UK’s blogstoryhttp://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/10/26/processed-meat-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/.