Experts warn processed meat ‘as bad as cigarettes’

It may look tempting but the sausage and bacon could harm you. Picture: PA

It may look tempting but the sausage and bacon could harm you. Picture: PA

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GLOBAL health experts are to warn that eating processed meats such as bacon poses as big a cancer threat as cigarettes, it has been reported.

The World Health Organisation (Who) will publish a report on Monday on the dangers of eating processed meats.

It is expected to list processed meat as a cancer-causing substance, while fresh red meat is also expected to be regarded as bad for health.

The classifications, by Who’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, are believed to regard processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans”, the highest of five possible rankings, shared with alcohol, arsenic and cigarettes.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has warned for several years that there is “strong evidence” that consuming a lot of red meat can cause bowel cancer.

It also says there is “strong evidence” that processed meats – even in smaller quantities – increase cancer risk.

One possible reason is that the compound that gives red meat its colour, haem, may damage the lining of the bowel.

Carcinogens, which cause cancer, can also form when meat is preserved.

Studies have also shown that people who consume a lot of red meat tend to eat fewer plant-based foods that can protect against cancer.

The claims have been criticised by some scientists, who said a meat-free diet was not vital for health.

Professor Robert Pickard, emeritus professor of neurobiology at Cardiff University and a member of the Meat Advisory Panel, which is funded by the meat industry, said: “No one food gives you cancer and speculating ahead of the Who announcement creates a situation of confusing messages.

“What we do know is that avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer. The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes.”

Dr Ian Johnson, emeritus fellow at the Institute of Food Research, said: “Although there is epidemiological evidence for a statistically significant association between processed meat consumption and bowel cancer, it is important to emphasise that the size of the effect is relatively small, and the mechanism is poorly defined.”

He said it was “inappropriate” to compare eating processed meats to tobacco smoke.

The WCRF advises that people can reduce their bowel cancer risk by eating no more than 500g per week of red meat.

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