Farm industry bosses have criticised a report which ranks processed red meat in the same carcinogenic category as cigarettes and arsenic.
The study by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said there was enough evidence to rank processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer.
Tobacco, asbestos, alcohol and diesel fumes are also on the Group 1 list.
It said 50g of processed meat a day - less than two slices of bacon - increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.
The report added red meats were ‘probably carcinogenic’ but there was limited evidence.
Responding to the claims, industry bosses said red and processed meats should be eaten as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
AHDB nutrition manager Maureen Strong said: “IARC’s findings suggest that eating 50g of processed meat brings a small increase in risk.
“However average consumption in the UK is just 17g per day. People would need to eat three times their current levels to increase their risk.
“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.”
Jim McLaren, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), said it was also important to note the IARC report also recognised the nutritional benefits of eating red meat.
Mr McLaren said: “Avoiding red meat could in fact be detrimental to health – for example around 40 per cent of women and teenage girls have iron intakes which are too low.
“Red meat is a natural source of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins and we should continue to enjoy it in the knowledge that it plays a vital role in our diets.”
He also pointed out vegetarians were found to have the same rate of bowel cancer as meat eaters in one of the biggest studies of its kind in the UK carried out by Oxford University.
Most processed meats contain pork or beef and is transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.
Campaigners including Friends of the Earth (FOTE) said the report should come as a ‘wake-up call’ that diets ‘urgently need to change’.
FOTE senior food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow added: "Evidence shows that high meat diets not only harm our health, they damage our environment too,” she said.
"Experts have warned that unless we eat less meat globally, we will fail to meet our climate change targets.”
Ms Oxborrow urged the Government to help people ‘access healthy, sustainable diets, with less and better quality meat’.
Please let us know what you think in the comments below.