The decision from the IARC, after a year of deliberations by international scientists, will be welcomed by cancer researchers but it triggered an immediate and furious response from the industry, and the scientists it funds, who rejected any comparison between cigarettes and meat.
What we do know is that avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer, said Robert Pickard, a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and emeritus professor of neurobiology at Cardiff University. The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes..
But the writing has been on the wall for ham, bacon and sausages for several years. The World Cancer Research Fund has long been advising people that processed meat is a cancer hazard. It advises eating products such as ham, bacon and salami as little as possible and having no more than 500g a week of red meat, including beef, pork and lamb.
Prof Tim Key, Cancer Research UKs epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: Cancer Research UK supports IARCs decision that theres strong enough evidence to classify processed meat as a cause of cancer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer.
Weve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.
This decision doesnt mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT.