Bacon beating

by Lawrence Aylward
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It was a black Monday for bacon earlier this week when it was implicated with hot dogs and other processed meats as causing cancer in a new study by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The IARC said that bacon and processed meats are “carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence,” while consumption of red meat was classified as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Bacon’s appeal has never been higher among Americans, and it’s too early to tell if it will lose its sizzle among consumers.

At least two bacon and processed meat processors disputed the report on Oct. 27. Rick Williamson, manager of external communications for Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corporation, said the important nutrients in meat far outweigh any theoretical hazard.

“Few foods are as widely consumed across cultures and generations as red and processed meats. Meat is nutrient dense and contains high-quality proteins, essential amino acids, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12,” he added.

Williamson noted that the best way to stay healthy and reduce the risk of cancer is to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy body weight, get plenty of exercise and avoid tobacco.

“Meat is an essential component of this balanced diet and Americans, on average, currently consume meat at recommended dietary levels,” he said. “At Hormel Foods, we do recognize that more and more consumers today are seeking foods that are minimally processed and have no preservatives.”

Cameron Bruett, head of corporate communications at JBS USA, based in Greeley, Colo., added: As proud providers of protein for consumers around the world, we agree with the opinions of many leading scientists regarding the nutritional benefits of meat and are confident that meat will continue to be a part of healthy, balanced diets for generations to come.”

In its study, the IARC concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases an individual’s risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Examples given by the IARC include bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky and other items.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Programme. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The IARC Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets.

While processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) – joining tobacco smoking and asbestos in that category – the IARC said consumption of processed meat does not mean that it is equally dangerous to smoking and asbestos inhalation. The IARC noted its classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.
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