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Love your bacon and ham? You have some bad news

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:59 IST

Read meat lovers have yet more bad news. A recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency under the WHO, classified processed meat products as carcinogenic with evidence citing that the consumption causes colorectal cancer, a type of cancer that make up about 10 per cent of all cases and affects more women than men.

Some findings by the expert also suggest links to pancreatic and prostate cancer.

The study of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease in defined populations by IARC showed that that moderate increase in the consumption of red and processed meat upped the risk of cancer.

Same category as tobacco and asbestos

The experts assessed more than 800 studies across countries with diverse diets and studied populations that consume red meat and associated it with different type of cancers. Evidence came from studies conducted over the past 20 years.

The findings, published on Monday, show that red meat is "probably carcinogenic," with limited evidence to account for it. However, 22 experts from 10 countries did come to the scientific conclusion that processed meat is Group 1 carcinogenic which is in the same category as tobacco and asbestos after the group found sufficient evidence.

But don't get confused, they might be in the same category but that doesn't really mean they are equally potent. The fact that they are in the same category just means that there is as much scientific evidence to prove that processed meat causes cancer, as there is in case of tobacco.

Decoding processed meat

Let's get the terminology correct first. What is processed meat? Well, all canned meat, that include sausages, ham, corned beef and the like can be termed as processed meat. Meat that is basically preserved after being processed through salting, smoking or fermentation.

So how many are affected? According to an independent academic research organization, Global Burden of Disease, about 34,000 cancer deaths a year worldwide is due to a processed meat-rich diet. The same organisation accounted for 50,000 cancer deaths due to high consumption of red meat,

Should you worry?

But the numbers are not high as compared to other more prominent factors. To contrast the figure, about 1 million cancer deaths are accounted due to tobacco smoking. Around 6,00,000 deaths a year are caused by alcohol consumption and more than 2,00,000 a year are caused by air pollution.

So if you are in Delhi, you should continue worrying about air pollution that has a higher chance of killing you than any form of meat.

And those looking for an exact figure on how much is too much meat, WHO has no suggestions yet.

Indians better off than Americans

The meat industry obviously cried fowl, with lobby groups stating the study as biased.

The experts also found out that 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.

But most us India need not worry, according to health experts. According to Food and Agricultural Organisation, on an average a person in the United States consumes more 50 times more meat in a year compared to a person residing in India.

First published: 27 October 2015, 6:28 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.