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WHO report on the carcinogenicity of red and processed meats.

Recently the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued guidance concerning the consumption of red and processed meats. The guidance was issued highlighting the link between the consumption of red and processed meats and colorectal cancer. While this report has been welcomed by many, the way in which it has been reported in the media has led to a fair bit of misinformation being put out there by several commentators.

Caught up in the reporting of the facts of this report was the good old British butcher’s banger. The simple fact is this – Sausages although processed meat, do not as a rule contain curing salts as a preservative and although strictly speaking they fall within the ‘processed meat’ category it is simply incorrect to lump butchers bangers in with other cured and processed meats. The only processing butchers bangers have been subjected to is mincing and stuffing – That’s it! A typical butchers banger contains a little salt for seasoning, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices and pork meat, that’s it! There is no higher risk from eating this product than there is from eating fresh pork.

The link between cured meats and cancer has been established in some of the research but let us look at this link in a little more detail. The research indicates that the three main cancer causing compounds are Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), Heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and N-nitroso-compounds (NOC). All three are only formed through high temperature cooking and the last NOC’s can be inhibited by the use of sodium ascorbate during curing!

Believe it or not there is a real misnomer surrounding risk and what it means. Simply put, risk is the likelihood of harm coming to someone as a result of exposure to a particular hazard and the vast majority of knowledge in this field point to this risk being low for those who exercise moderation in their dietary consumption of cured meats that have been cooked at high temperatures.

Its always difficult for people to make informed judgements on these and other issues when the message going out is factually incorrect. One recent tv programm summarised the risk quite well. On average, in the UK population the normal rate for colorectal cancer is approximately 6 people in every one hundred population. Eating 50g of cured meat every day in your diet would typically increase the risk to 7 people in 100 population. The WHO report does't quantify this figure but one thing is clear, some media commentators (not the BBC) have not read the detail and don't fully understand what they are talking about. Read the summary for yourself and check out the research.

You can read a summary of the report for yourself here


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