Sausages, bacon and other processed meats rank alongside cigarettes as a major cause of cancer according to a report by the World Health Organisation released today.
The report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said there was enough evidence to rank processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer. Red meat has also been placed in Group 2A and deemed “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
A group of 22 scientists reviewed the evidence linking red meat and processed meat consumption to cancer, and concluded that eating processed meats greatly increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
The Guardian reported that Prof Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: “Cancer Research UK supports IARC’s decision that there’s strong enough evidence to classify processed meat as a cause of cancer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer.
“We’ve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.”
This is a rock solid finding that meat is bad for you; it can even kill you.
As vegans this is not news to us. We are already aware of the immense health risks associated with a diet heavily laden with animal products. We already know that the consumption of meat — red meat especially — is not only linked to bowel cancer as indicated in today’s findings, but also pancreatic, prostate and breast cancers too. Not to mention increased risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other systemic illness.
But what about the meat-eaters who not only deny there are health risks involved in an omnivorous diet but also claim that avoiding meat is an unhealthy choice?
Are they having an ‘aha moment’ today?
It appears not. The internet is awash with outrage and a dime a dozen satirical news pieces with headlines like: ’Joy of bacon sandwich overrides cancer risk, says everyone.’
This morning Australia’s Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told ABC radio that we can’t live our lives in fear of the things that might cause cancer. “If you got everything that the WHO said were carcinogenic and took it out of your daily requirements, well, you are kind of heading back to a cave.”
So, despite sausages, bacon and salami sitting side-by-side with arsenic, asbestos and tobacco in a category of items most likely to give you cancer — it appears, at the earliest flush of reaction anyway, that the response is to scoff, joke about it and then carry on as normal.
How can this be? Is meat-eating such an entrenched part of our culture that even when deemed dangerous to our health, people are more willing to stick their fingers in their ears and ‘just risk it’ than give up their bacon and egg Sundays?
I glean hope from the fact that once upon a time in the Mad Men Days (that’s a correct historical term for that particular era now, isn’t it?), people once scoffed at the idea that cigarettes could kill you. I pray the consumption of meat sees a swifter decline than the social ceremony of ‘having a puff.’
For the animals’ sake.