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Irish Government set to review WHO study linking processed meat and cancer

26 October 2015 Latest News National News News


The Department of Health has referred the World Health Organization (WHO) study on links between the consumption of processed meats and cancer to its own experts as well as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. In a statement tonight the department said the research “will feed into the review of healthy eating guidelines currently being undertaken by the Health Promotion Unit of the Department”.

Experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of WHO, concluded that 50g of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. After reviewing the accumulated scientific findings, a group of experts from ten countries further classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans. This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

World Health Organization study on links between the consumption of processed meats and cancer

Source: WHO. Data refers to annual figures

Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme. is quoted as saying: “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, 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 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.

IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild said “These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat, At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations”.

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has agreed with the results of the WHO report, In a statement the ICS said: “There is strong scientific evidence to support avoiding or limiting the consumption of processed meat, which has been linked to colorectal cancer.  A diet high in red and processed meat is linked to bowel cancer and (the ICS) recommends avoiding processed meats and reducing the consumption of cooked red meat to 500 grams per week.”

As part of a balanced diet the ICS also advocates eating more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses, cutting down on foods high in calories, fat and sugar, reducing alcohol consumption, and cutting down on salt.  Eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and being a healthy weight, the ICS said, can reduce cancer risk by one-third.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said consuming recommended quantities of red meat is well recognised by medical experts as being beneficial to human health and provides the body with essential vitamins and minerals. The IFA added that red meat is an important part of a balanced diet in most Western societies where a plentiful supply of quality foods has added greatly to health and life expectancy.


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