The World Health Organization is reportedly set to declare that bacon, sausages and other processed meat cause cancer. Red meat is also expected to be listed in the next lower risk category of being “probably carcinogenic to humans.
According to a report in The Daily Mail, the announcements were expected to be made on Monday with processed meat put in the same category as cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.
The decision follows a meeting of scientists from 10 nations who reviewed all available evidence, the report said. Scientists are believed to have agreed that processed meat is ‘carcinogenic to humans’, the highest of five possible rankings.
WHO’s warning could lead to new guidelines requiring warning labels on processed meat packets, the report said.
Other agencies had earlier said there was a link between high consumption of these meats and bowel cancer, but WHO is expected to take to warning to the next level.
UK’s National Health Service website says, “Evidence shows that there is probably a link between eating red and processed meat and the risk of bowel cancer”.
“People who eat a lot of these meats are at higher risk of bowel cancer than those who eat small amounts,” it adds. However it says beef, lamb and pork “can form part of a healthy diet” and that red meat is “a good source of protein and provides vitamins and minerals, such as iron and zinc”.
The World Cancer Research Fund says: “There is strong evidence that eating a lot of these foods (red and processed meat) increases your risk of bowel cancer.”
Processed meat is made by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemicals. Examples are ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages. Burgers are also expected to be included.
It’s not clear whether Indian meat dishes sold as frozen food would be included in the warning.
The Daily Mail said meat in general contains high concentrations of fat and it is thought the compound that gives meat its red colour may damage the bowel lining.
Farmers and the meat industry have expressed concern about the impact on sales if the WHO lists processed meat as a carcinogen.
Betsy Booren, of the North American Meat Institute, said recently: “If they determine that red and processed meat causes cancer – and I think they will – that moniker will stick… It could take decades and billions of dollars to change that.”
The UK government had previously warned the public in 2011 about the dangers of excessive amounts of red meat.