Processed meat and cancer from a South African perspective

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified processed meat as cancer causing. The IARC is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.

Twenty-two experts from ten countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. That’s the equivalent of about four strips of bacon or one vienna.

Overall, the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is five percent. To put the numbers into perspective, the increased risk from eating the amount of processed meat in the study would raise average lifetime risk to almost six percent.


What you need to know about the IARC processed meat evaluation

The IARC represents the opinion of a selected group of scientists and this opinion is not based on consensus in the global scientific community. No group member was from a developing country, and no study from the African continent was included in the processed meat review.



How the report affects South Africans

  • Food culture differs around the world. The majority of South Africans consume mostly chicken, then beef, followed by pork, lamb or mutton and then processed meat.
  • Our processed meat looks significantly different to processed meats found in other countries, i.e. in most viennas, polonies and even fresh wors, the main ingredient is often not derived from red meat, but vegetable proteins and mechanically deboned chicken.
  • South Africans consume a low level of processed meat, about 12g per person, per day.
  • If a South African consumes more than 50g processed meat per day, the report states an 18 percent increase risk for colorectal cancer. The normal lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer in South Africa is 0.88 percent for men, and 0.55 percent for women.

Cancer is a complex problem that cannot be solved or blamed on one specific product or food group. The best way to minimize your cancer risk is to live a healthy lifestyle.

Caxton Central

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