Europe to ‘analyse’ controversial WHO meat report

European Commission considering report on cancer link to decide if action required

World Health Organisation (WHO) experts said on Monday that bacon, ham and sausages were as big a cancer threat as tobacco. The knock on effect could be big for the Irish meat industry which employs 10,000 people.


The European Commission said it will “carefully analyse” the World Health Organisation report that processed meats can increase the risk of cancer.

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, a spokesman said experts in the commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) would examine the results. But he stressed that EU food legislation and the system of controls guarantees that all food, including meat, in the EU “represents the highest standard of food safety”.

Stringent requirements


EU food law expert Maree Gallagher said the WHO report reflected much of the public-health messaging around diet in recent years, which stresses moderation.

“The European Commission and the European Union already have very stringent requirements when it comes to food production and safety. The EU is not obliged to act on the back of the WHO report, but it may decide to task the EFSA with undertaking a risk assessment. Generally, however, dietary advice is the competency of member states.”

A spokesman for the EFSA, which is charged with providing independent scientific advice on risk in the food industry, said the agency was “aware of the IARC [International Agency for Research on Cancer ]paper but reserves comment until it has had the opportunity to consider the full monograph”.

The EC’s directorate-general for agriculture, headed by Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan, is not directly responsible for food safety: it falls under the remit of the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. However, Mr Hogan told a Macra na Feirme conference in Co Cork at the weekend that the report was likely to have an immediate impact on eating habits.

The commission is likely to face pressure from the food industry to downplay the findings amid fears of its impact on food consumption.

The Irish Farmers’ Association is one of a number of farming organisations with a strong representation in Brussels, who are concerned about the impact on the multibillion euro European meat industry.

Pork producers in central and eastern Europe have already been affected by Russian sanctions on EU products.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness said she would be calling on the chairs of both the Committee on the Environment, Food Safety and Public Health and the Committee on Agriculture to put the issue on the agenda for debate at the European Parliament.

“We need to carefully analyse what the report has said and if we need to take any action,” she said, noting that the EU supply chain was tightly regulated in terms of safety. She said the Lancet review of the WHO findings stressed the benefits of eating red meat.

‘Very bad for you’