Baconsplained: What Is Processed Meat?

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The World Health Organization dealt a raft of bad news to carnivores Monday, warning processed meats can cause cancer and that red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans.

But in the wake of the WHO’s findings meat lovers everywhere have been asking just what is processed meat?

Processed meat has been cooked or altered to change the taste or preserve the meat. Most processed meats have either been cured, smoked or had salt or preservatives added, according to the BBC.

Processed meat includes some of the nation’s favorite foods, including hot dogs, corned beef, bacon and sausages. The WHO classified processed meats as group one carcinogens along with alcohol and cigarettes – meaning they are definitely a cause of cancer. The carcinogens are formed as the meat is being processed.

Researchers from 10 different countries decided that a 50-gram portion of processed meat, equivalent to two strips of bacon, eaten daily raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

The WHO uses five different classifications for carcinogenic groups ranging from the group one products that definitely cause cancer to group four which probably don’t cause cancer.

Cancer Risks Associated With Meat Consumption

Cancer Risks Associated With Meat Consumption
(Credit: Cancer Research U.K.)

Processed meats may be in the same carcinogenic category as cigarettes, but the WHO does not argue the risks to health posed by meat are the same as tobacco.

According to Cancer Research U.K., the risk of contracting cancer from smoking is substantially higher than eating processed meat.

In the United Kingdom, processed meat is the cause of just three percent of all cancers while smoking tobacco accounts for 19 percent.

Tobacco vs Meat What's The Risk

Tobacco vs Meat What’s The Risk (Credit: Cancer Research U.K.)

The WHO’s report suffered something of a backlash from scientists and the meat industry for being overly cautious about the dangers of processed meat.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the WHO, recommends cutting down on processed meat, but people need not cut it out of their diet altogether to avoid risking bowel cancer.

If health is the number one priority, Cancer Research U.K. produced a useful graphic to inform the public about their meat eating habits.

Are You Eating Too Much Meat

Are You Eating Too Much Meat (Credit: Cancer Research U.K.)

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