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In the report, red meat refers to mammalian muscle meat including beef, lamb, pork, mutton, veal, goat and horse, and processed meat to that which has been altered through curing, smoking, salting or fermentation to improve preservation or enhance flavour.
It was stated that red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, while processed meat was classed as carcinogenic – meaning there is convincing evidence that it causes colorectal cancer. There are also links with stomach, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
To put this into context, an independent academic research organisation, the Global Burden of Disease Project, has found that worldwide, around 34,000 cancer deaths per year are attributable to high levels of processed meat consumption, while 1 million are attributable to tobacco smoking and over 200,000 due to air pollution.
Red meat has not been confirmed as carcinogenic, but the Global Burden of Disease Project estimates that if it were, 50,000 worldwide cancer deaths per year could be a result of diets high in red meat.
Here, we speak to the chairman of the Butchers Q Guild, representative of the highest quality independent butchers across the UK, and founder of charcuterie retailer Cannon & Cannon for their thoughts on if and how this news will affect our sector.
Sean Cannon, founder and managing director of Cannon & Cannon
Firstly, yes, believing what you read in the newspaper can cause you cancer. Secondly, we at Cannon&Cannon believe that one should be able to enjoy everything in moderation. It would be a shame if we didn’t indulge in things that were a bit naughty every now and then.
Variety is the spice of life, and we would never encourage our customers to gorge on charcuterie all day every day – it’s simply a case of being sensible about what you eat and consuming a balanced diet. If you’re going to eat cured meat, just make sure it’s good quality, locally-produced, British cured meat. The Italians have a wonderfully long lifespan, as do a lot of Continental societies, and they eat cured meat almost daily!
I think this is just a case of the ‘Nanny State’ showing its face and I don’t think our customers are really that bothered by it – we haven’t had any comments. Customers who are careful and educated about what they choose to eat will usually be careful and educated in how they manage their diet.
If you’re going to buy and consume cured meats, like all meats I think it should be for a special occasion. People know it’s a bit of a treat; if people are going to enjoy such wonderful things in life, including cheese and wine, they’re well aware they’re not eating a mung bean! That’s what makes it so great – it’s a treat. Ultimately, it’s about being responsible.
Don’t let the World Health Organisation tell you what to do – if you’re a responsible foodie, you’ll eat a responsible and balanced diet of which cured and red meat can play a really good part. Don’t eat bacon every day – it’s quite simple, really!
Mark Turnbull, national chairman of the Butchers Q Guild
There is no real evidence to suggest that eating red and processed meat as part of a balanced diet causes cancer, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has itself said that the risk from processed meat remains small.
Red and processed meat plays an important role in a balanced diet, providing protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. There’s no evidence that removing meat from your diet protects against cancer.
Furthermore, traditional British sausages as served at breakfast, or as bangers and mash, are not the same as those referred to under processed meats. The concern from IARC is in processed meats containing nitrate curing agents.
Continental sausages such as salami, frankfurters and hot dogs contain nitrates. Nitrates or nitrites are added to provide the cured meat colour and inhibit growth of harmful bacteria from the genus Clostridium.
A typical Beef or Pork Sausage would include the following additives, none of which are nitrates: Salt, Rusk, Dextrose, Emulsifier E451(i), Preservative E221, Wheat Flour, Flavour Enhancer E621, Flavourings, Antioxidant E301, Food Colours.
To assume everything that is a processed product contains nitrates is wrong. No single food causes cancer. These scare stories are very detrimental to the whole meat trade, and we would suggest that for people on a balanced diet there is little to fear.