Non-processed red meats are less dangerous but “probably cause cancer”, stated the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The new findings were published after reviewing all the literature, “The reasearch group has classified the consumption of processed meat in group 1 on the basis of sufficient evidence lihking to bowel cancer,” the statement said. The WHO said each 50-gram (1.76 oz) portion of processed meat – usually beef or pork which has been transformed through processes such as salting and smoking – increases the risk of colon cancer by 18 percent. But the fact is that Italians on average eat a lot less than that, according to Assica, the National meat and charcuterie association, which estimates consumption at 25 grams of processed meat a day. Assica also underlines the non-health aspects of the issue, noting the meat industry in Italy generates 30 billion euro a year in sales and provides work for 125,000 people.
The World Health Organization specified that processed meats are those which have been transformed “through procedures of salting, polymer fermentation, smoking, or other processes to increase flavor or improve conservation”. Then WHO said most processed meats contain pork or beef, but can also contain other types of red meat, chicken, offal or meat derivatives such as blood. The IARC findings, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, are “an invitation to return to the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to lessen the risk of cancer,” said Assica in its statement. IARC is confirming data that we’ve known about for some time, that the presence of preservatives or combustion products in these foods is linked to some types of cancer.”
For red meats it’s a question of method and quantity, as the Italian meat and salumi association pointed out, and “there isn’t an ‘exposure limit’ above which one would certainly become ill. Therefore the message is that red meat needs to be consumed in the right way, once or twice a week at most. Eating red meat is also linked to pancreas and prostate cancer, the IARC says. The new classification places cured and processed meats in the same category as asbestos, alcohol, arsenic, plutonium and tobacco. But what is important to stress is that a 2012 AIOM study reported that over half (56%) the Italian population ate processed meats or red meat three or four times a week, and 9% ate these meats every day.