It looks like the global obsession with bacon may soon dwindle as the beloved breakfast meat – and comrades ham and sausage – have been revealed to increase the risk of cancer, says the World Health Organization. Processed meats have now been placed in the same category as alcohol, tobacco, arsenic and asbestos.
The report from the WHO’s cancer arm says that just 50g of processed meat a day – less than one sausage – increases the risk of bowel cancer by almost a fifth.
Officials also report that red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Eating red meat is also linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says.
Professor Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: "Cancer Research UK supports IARC’s decision that there’s strong enough evidence to classify processed meat as a cause of cancer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer.
“We’ve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.
But he adds that we don’t necessarily need to cut out processed meat – which refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives and includes ham, bacon, pastrami, chorizo and salami – from our diet entirely.
“This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT.”
Head of research interpretation at the World Cancer Research Fund UK Dr Rachel Thompson said: "Processed meat contains more salt and fat and there is likely to be a higher cancer risk from the actual processing.
“We think it better that people eat fresh red meat because it’s much better nutritionally and to limit processed red meat as much as possible.”