Londoners sceptical that red meat probably can cause cancer

The World Health Organisation warns that processed meat can cause cancer and that red meat probably can. But Londoners are sceptical of the claims, dismissing the red meat warning as a fad.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (OCTOBER 26, 2015) (ITN) – Eating processed meat can cause bowel cancer in humans while red meat is a likely cause of the disease, World Health Organisation (WHO) experts said on Monday (October 26) in findings that could sharpen debate over the merits of a meat-based diet.

The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, put processed meat like hot dogs and ham in its group 1 list, which already includes tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes, for which there is “sufficient evidence” of cancer links.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr Kurt Straif of the IARC said in a statement.

Some health experts weren’t surprised by the findings and said they may not add much to existing health recommendations to limit consumption of such meat.

Charlotte Stirling-Reed is a London-based nutritionist. She said there is much supporting evidence to the new WHO claims.

“Red and processed meat is linked to cancer with scientific evidence, so it is not just something that has been suggested or that one report has said. Actually there is a lot of scientific evidence research to back up the fact that red and processed meat are linked with bowel cancer. So I would say that absolutely we want to pay attention to, we want to take note,” she said.

At a street food market in East London, those tucking in to kebabs were unimpressed with Monday’s health revelations, dismissing them as yet another fad.

“I mean it’s ridiculous to compare red meat with cigarettes and things like that is just ridiculous,” said one man.

“I think food awareness in general is really important but that’s possibly a step too far. I mean every week, you know….tomatoes give you cancer, you know there’a new fad, there’s a new alert,” said one woman.

Red meat, under which the IARC includes beef, lamb and pork, was classified as a “probable” carcinogen in its group 2A list that also contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in many weedkillers.

The lower classification for red meat reflected “limited evidence” that it causes cancer. The IARC found links mainly with bowel cancer, as was the case for processed meat, but it also observed associations with pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Cardiff Robert Pickard, is on the government’s Meat Advisory Panel.

He said it’s important to make the distinction between red meat and processed meat.

“The uncertainty is generated because of course you can treat meat in very different ways, for example if you are preserving it and adding a lot of smoke, then you can introduce carcinogens possibly in that process,” he said.

The WHO findings estimated each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Pickard said the public shouldn’t panic and have a common sense approach to their diet.

“The bottom line in nutrition is to eat a little bit of as many different things as possible but never to eat too much of one thing, and then you can avoid any problems that might be caused by contamination,” he said.

The preparation of the IARC’s report has already prompted vigourous reactions from meat industry groups, which argue meat forms part of a balanced diet and that cancer risk assessments need to be set in a broader context of environmental and lifestyle factors.

The IARC cited an estimate from the Global Burden of Disease Project – an international consortium of more than 1,000 researchers – that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.

This compares with about 1 million cancer deaths per year globally due to tobacco smoking and 600,000 a year due to alcohol consumption, it said.