UN report tying processed meat to cancer a farce: Australia
ONE of the world's top meat exporters, Australia, yesterday ridiculed a landmark United Nations report linking sausages and ham to cancer, saying it was "a farce" to suggest they could be as lethal as cigarettes.
This comes even as health and nutrition experts said the findings do not mean consumers should stop eating meat.
The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) analysed 800 studies from around the world and found that processed meats such as sausages, ham and hot dogs cause bowel cancer, and red meat "probably" does too.
It placed processed meat into its Group 1 category of carcinogens. Other substances in the group include alcohol, asbestos and tobacco.
"No, it shouldn't be compared to cigarettes and obviously that makes the whole thing a farce - comparing sausages to cigarettes," Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told national radio.
"I don't think that we should get too excited that if you have a sausage, you're going to die of bowel cancer because you're not. You just don't want to live on sausages."
The Australian meat industry's research and development corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, said "promoting red meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet is important".
"Red meat such as beef and lamb is a critical, natural source of iron and zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 - essential nutrients needed to keep the body and brain functioning well," it said in a statement.
Meat producers elsewhere were also sceptical of the report, with the North American Meat Institute saying IARC "tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome".
In Hong Kong, where bowel cancer is the No. 2 top-killing tumour, the food industry blasted the findings as "too rash", saying they failed to specify what kind of preservatives and additives in processed meat are carcinogenic.
By the IARC's own account, meat has "known health benefits". And the agency says it does not know what a safe meat quota would be - or even if there is one.
Other specialists insist the report is no reason to drop steak from the menu, though it is probably wise for big eaters of it to cut back.
"This decision doesn't mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat," said Tim Key, an epidemiologist at Cancer Research UK.
"But if you eat lots of it, you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich)."
Nutritionist Elizabeth Lund from Norfolk in England said obesity and lack of exercise were far bigger cancer risks.
"Overall, I feel that eating meat once a day combined with plenty of fruit, vegetable and cereal fibre plus exercise and weight control, will allow for a low risk of (colorectal cancer)," she said.
"It should also be noted that some studies have shown that if meat is consumed with vegetables or a high-fibre diet, the risk of (colorectal cancer) is reduced."
However, Ian Johnson of the Britain-based Institute of Food Research said "there is little or no evidence that vegetarians in (Britain) have lower risk of bowel cancer than meat eaters".
Generally, dietary advice is to limit red-meat intake to once or twice a week, said nutrition professor Tom Sanders of King's College London - the equivalent of about two steaks or three hamburgers.
Said Australia's Mr Joyce: "If you're going to avoid everything that has any correlation with cancer whatsoever - don't walk outside, don't walk down the streets in Sydney, there's going to be very little in life that you do in the end."