Saving our bacon…

As Reuters reports:

Bacon lovers took to social media on Tuesday to express disdain over a World Health Organization report that said processed meat is likely to cause cancer.

The hashtags #FreeBacon, #Bacongeddon and #JeSuisBacon were among the top-trending topics worldwide on Twitter for a second straight day.

Celebrities, politicians and ordinary consumers were reacting to Monday’s announcement by the WHO that eating processed meats including hot dogs, sausages and bacon can cause colorectal cancer in humans, and that red meat is also a likely cause of the disease.

It is probably an excellent idea to go to the source at WHO:

13. Could you quantify the risk of eating red meat and processed meat?

The consumption of processed meat was associated with small increases in the risk of cancer in the studies reviewed. In those studies, the risk generally increased with the amount of meat consumed. An analysis of data from 10 studies estimated that every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18%.

The cancer risk related to the consumption of red meat is more difficult to estimate because the evidence that red meat causes cancer is not as strong. However, if the association of red meat and colorectal cancer were proven to be causal, data from the same studies suggest that the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17% for every 100 gram portion of red meat eaten daily.

16. Should I stop eating meat?

Eating meat has known health benefits. Many national health recommendations advise people to limit intake of processed meat and red meat, which are linked to increased risks of death from heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.

Finally, nutritionist Rosemary Stanton writes in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Don’t panic, there’s no need to ban bacon or barbecues (but you should eat less).

…there is convincing evidence that the substance causes cancer and is a potential hazard, depending on the circumstances. In the case of processed meat, for example, the report notes that each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent. It also notes that even though the overall risk of developing colorectal cancer may be small, that’s a significant increase and particularly relevant for consideration as meat intake increases throughout the world.

Instead we’ve had media headlines, blogs and comments of outrage because Group 1 agents also include tobacco and alcohol. In fact, WHO explains clearly that this does NOT mean that all substances in Group 1 are equally dangerous. The classification system describes the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer but the actual risk depends on other factors. For processed meats, this includes the quantity consumed.

The Australian dietary guidelines took the findings of research and non-conflicted expert reports into account in setting a weekly limit of 450 grams on red meat and moving processed meats into the category of “discretionary” choices. Such foods can be avoided or consumed only occasionally in small quantities. No need to ban bacon or banish barbecues…

It strikes me that there is little in this story that I have not heard before; it’s just that it is more systematically laid out by that latest WHO report. It should also be kept in mind that our usual freshly made snags or bangers are not “processed” as in “transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation” — unlike your cabanossi etc.

And now from the category food on this blog: