WASHINGTON – A new study out of Europe purports to show a link between processed meat consumption and cancer and cardiovascular disease. But the American Meat Institute Foundation challenged the findings.

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) study claims that consuming 160 grams of processed meat per day can cause premature death. The study also suggests that other unhealthy behaviors go along with processed meat consumption. For example, men and women who ate the most red or processed meat in general consumed fewer fruits and vegetables than compared to with low intake. They also were more likely to be smokers and less likely to be college-educated.

"Men with high red meat consumption consumed more alcohol than men with a low consumption, which was not seen in women," according to the study.

Researchers also concluded that 3.3 percent of all deaths could be prevented if people consumed less than 20 grams of processed meat per day. However, the study did not find an increased risk of death with red meat consumption, and that small amounts of red meat were beneficial.

“But all these results are based on data that is typically unreliable as participants are forced to try to remember what they ate days, weeks and even months before — a challenge for anyone,” said Betsy Booren, Ph.D., chief scientist for AMIF. “Then that data is run through statistical models and is presented as conclusive dietary recommendations for healthy living, when actual medical decisions should be made in consultation with your medical providers.”

Booren said 160 grams of processed meat is 5.6 ounces, which AMIF estimates is five times the daily amount of processed meat consumed, on average, in the US. She said that on average, government data show consumers eat 23 grams of hot dogs and deli meats per day.

“Americans consume the recommended amount of meat and poultry already, according to federal data,” Booren said. “In fact, it is the only food group consumed in the proper amount.”

Furthermore, the EPIC data reveals that consuming between 20 and 40 grams of processed meat per day does not increase risk of death, but eating very high levels of processed meat can increase risk.

“While we have significant concerns about the study’s methodology and results, if one chooses to accept the study’s conclusions, Americans can rest assured that their processed meat consumption is, on average, at the approximate level recommended by these researchers and can feel confident that red meat consumed as part of healthy balanced diet offers good nutrition and no increased risk of mortality,” Booren said. “And that’s good news.”

The goal of the EPIC study was to examine the association of red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption with the risk of early death. The study included 448,568 men and women in 10 European countries without prevalent cancer, stroke, or heart attack, and with complete information about their diet, smoking, physical activity and body mass index. The subjects were between 35 and 69 years old at the start of the study.