Yes, the World Health Organization (WHO) now states that eating processed meat like bacon and sausage can cause cancer. However, that certainly does not mean that it is “as big a threat as cigarettes”, as one headline on the subject read.
The WHO’s list of carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, substances doesn’t address the degree to which they increase the risk. In other words, some substances are more toxic than others. All the list indicates is whether there are enough high-quality scientific studies to link cancer and the carcinogen: in this case, bacon.
In an article for TreeHugger, Margaret Badore explains how the media has inflated the news. She references numbers obtained by the World Heath Organization demonstrating that 34,000 deaths occur every year because of cancer related to processed meats. By contrast, 1 million people die every year because of cigarettes, 600,000 a year related to alcohol abuse, and 200,000 because of air pollution. Next to these numbers, the risk from bacon and other meats almost looks small.
Of course, processed meats can cause other health problems like obesity and heart disease, so there are many reasons to cut back even if it’s one of your favorite foods. It’s also more environmentally friendly to eat less meat since raising animals requires more resources than growing plants.
In addition to the clear issues with bacon and sausage, red meat is considered to be possibly carcinogenic by the WHO, so it’s a great time to examine your diet and design a plan to cut back on these potentially harmful foods.
Image (c) Flickr/Kim Ahlström