Food Safety Authority to examine WHO report ‘in detail’

Revised healthy eating guidelines due after link between cancer and red/processed meat found

hamburgers, burgers, horse meat,

hamburgers, burgers, horse meat,


The Food Safety Authority of Ireland said it will examine the new World Health Organization (WHO) report that found processed meats cause cancer and issue any necessary guidelines changes.

The WHO published research on Monday that found bacon, ham and sausages were as big a cancer threat as tobacco.

Experts from the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the WHO, concluded eating 50g of processed meat daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.

The report also suggested that red meat was a likely cause of some cancers.

Dr Mary Flynn, chief specialist in public health nutrition with the authority, said the report looked at the strength of evidence and did not look at the risk or the potency of a substance to cause cancer.

“We’re the Food Safety Authority, if it was that bad we’d be taking big action here,” she said.

“We’ll obviously going look at this data in great detail and issue any revisions to our current guidance.”

The Health Service Executive (HSE) is also to review the research to see if changes are needed to dietary and nutritional policies for patients in hospitals and other public healthcare facilities.

The HSE said the report linking red and processed meat to cancer was detailed and would require careful consideration.

Ms Flynn, who was speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland,  said Irish people ate an average of 35g of processed meat a day, less than a sausage and a half, and about 57-85g of red meat daily.

The FSAI recommends 300g of red meat a week, which is a 100g portion three days a week.

“They’re talking here about high consumption of red meat and processed meat,” Ms Flynn said.

“It’s all about moderation. How often you’re eating something and how much you’re eating.”

However, she said a daily increase of processed meats such as two slices of ham or two sausages did increase your cancer risk.

The IARC put processed meat in its group 1 list - which includes tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes - for which there is “sufficient evidence” of cancer links.

Red meat, including beef, lamb and pork, was classified as a “probable” carcinogen in the IARC group 2A list that also contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in many weedkillers.

The Government has not commented on possible implications of the finding on Ireland’s €3 billion meat industry.

The Irish Cancer Society said avoiding or limiting intake of processed meat can help to reduce the risk of certain cancers.


The Department of Health said meat is “an important source of protein, Iron and vitamins”, but processed meats should be limited.

In the Food Pyramid category for red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts, the Department said the current guidelines for healthy eating are:

- Two servings a day from this category. Go for a variety of choices. Choose lean meat, trim excess fat and remove skin from poultry. It is better to choose fish twice a week.

- Limit processed meats such as bacon or ham.

- You do not need large amounts of meat (50 - 75g of cooked lean beef is 1 serving).

The Department said the WHO findings have been sent to an expert group and revised Healthy Eating Guidelines will be issued before the end of the year.