Consuming processed meats, such as sausages, bacon, hot dogs and burgers has been linked to an increase in cancer risk, according to the World Health organisation.
Released on Monday, the findings added that additional links between the consumption of red meat and pancreatic and prostate cancer were also found – but in smaller, less conclusive findings.
It places red meat in group 2A, as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” the IARC says.
IARC classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” and likened it to having the same effects as tobacco and asbestos, when it came to cancer risk.
The findings were established by a panel of 22 international experts who have reviewed decades of research pertaining to the link between red meat, processed meat and cancer.
The panel cited studies suggesting that eating an additional 100 grams of red meat per day raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 per cent. Similarly, eating an extra 50 grams of processed meat daily raises the risk by 18 per cent. The researchers pointed to 34,000 deaths per year being attributed to diets high in processed meats. About 1 million cancer deaths per year are due to tobacco smoking, it said.
“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 Kurt Straif, of the IARC in a statement. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
Processed meat, as opposed to grass-fed, organic cuts of meat, are high in salt, fat, and often saturated in chemicals, which adds to their seemingly toxic nature.
“Processed meats are high in salt and fat. In addition, chemicals such as nitrites are added to many processed meats to maintain their colour and to prevent contamination. Nitrites can be converted in the stomach to carcinogenic nitrosamines,” says Clare Hughes, Cancer Council nutrition program manager.
Current guidelines recommend that adults consume no more than 65g of meat a day, whilst avoiding processed meats all together.
“Nobody is telling people not to eat meat,” said David Wallinga, senior health officer for health and environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council. “What they’re saying is if you eat it, eat less of it and buy it from sources that have produced it better.”