Bacon, ham, and salami have today received the ignominious label of foods that cause cancer, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. They're part of the processed meat group, which has now been "classified as carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer." Reviewing a body of scientific literature spanning more than 800 studies, the IARC team were confident in asserting a causal link between processed meat — that which has been cured, salted, fermented, smoked, or otherwise "transformed ... to enhance flavour or improve preservation" — and the occurrence of cancer in those who consume it.
Red meat was also subject to the IARC's scrutiny, however the conclusion there is far less definitive, with the agency asserting only that it's "probably" carcinogenic to humans. That designation has been based on admittedly limited evidence, and meat industry groups have immediately responded with outrage and indignation. "They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome," Betsy Booren of the North American Meat Institute tells The Guardian. Others have also pointed out that obesity and a lack of exercise are bigger risk factors for cancer than the consumption of meat, and this news should be taken with that perspective in mind. In any case, this adds fuel to campaigns for curbing the consumption of meat and is likely to rekindle the debate over its effects on health.
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