Fresh red meat, cigarettes, asbestos are also due to join WHO ‘encyclopaedia of carcinogens’
BACON, burgers and sausages are as big a cancer threat as cigarettes, global health chiefs are to rule.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is to list processed meat among the most cancer-causing substances, alongside arsenic and asbestos.
Fresh red meat is also due to join the ‘encyclopaedia of carcinogens’ and is likely to be ranked as only slightly less dangerous than the preserved products.
The rulings, revealed to the DailyMail UK by a well-placed source, will send shock waves through the farming industry and the fast food sector. They could also lead to new dietary guidelines and warning labels on packs of bacon.
The classifications, by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, come amid mounting concern that meat fuels the disease which claims more than 150,000 lives a year in the United Kingdom (UK).
Links to bowel cancer, Britain’s second biggest cancer killer, are particularly strong, with estimations that half of cases could be prevented by healthier lifestyles.
The Department of Health’s scientific advisers recently concluded that red and processed meat ‘probably’ increase the odds of bowel cancer but the WHO is expected to go further by saying processed meat causes cancer.
The decision follows a meeting of scientists from ten nations, including the UK, who reviewed all available evidence.
They are believed to have agreed processed meat is ‘carcinogenic to humans’, the highest of five possible rankings, shared with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.
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.
Red meat is expected to be one rung below, ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.
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.
Processed meat has previously been blamed for one in 30 deaths and is seen as dangerous because preserving techniques can raise levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
It is estimated that if intake was cut to 20g a day – a rasher of bacon a day or an English breakfast once a week – almost 20,000 early deaths would be prevented in the UK each year.
Any advice to cut, or avoid, processed meat will be welcomed by cancer charities.
But it could have huge repercussions for the meat industry, which will be mindful that sugar sales fell last year after the WHO issued a warning on over consumption.