Processed meat, including bacon, has been classified as causing cancer in humans while red meat is probably also a culprit, according to a new report by the World Health Organization released today.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO), convened a working group of 22 international experts, led by UNSW Conjoint Professor Bernard Stewart, to look at the issue.
Their findings, published today in the journal Lancet Oncology are based on a review of the scientific and medical evidence contained within 800 existing studies.
The experts found the risk of developing bowel cancer from the consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed. Each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18%.
The experts also found an association between the consumption of processed meat and pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
“Those who are overweight and those who are small and inactive have no room for discretionary foods, such as processed meats, in their diet.”
Processed meat includes bacon, ham and sausages or any meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.
Professor Stewart, from UNSW’s School of Women's & Children's Health, said the findings provide compelling evidence that consuming large amounts of processed and red meat over an extended time period increases the risk of cancer.
“However no-one is suggesting that we ban bacon, put warnings on hot dogs or take beef off the barbie,” Professor Stewart said.
“The findings provide a new degree of certainty for health authorities who produce the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which provide advice about how much red and processed meat we should consume.”
The guidelines recommend limiting fresh red meat to approximately 450g a week. This is well below the average consumption of 700g of red meat reported recently by Australian men.
Nutritionist and UNSW Visiting Fellow at the School of Medical Sciences Dr Rosemary Stanton said processed meats have no essential role in a healthy diet and should either be omitted or consumed only occasionally or in small quantities.
“Those who are overweight and those who are small and inactive have no room for discretionary foods, such as processed meats, in their diet,” Dr Stanton said.
Read the IARC media release here.