HSE to review link between red meat and cancer

Executive to examine if changes to hospital diets needed in wake of WHO report

Eating processed meat can lead to bowel cancer in humans and red meat is a likely cause of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says. Video: Reuters


The HSE is to review new research which suggests processed and red meat can cause cancer to determine if changes are needed to dietary and nutritional policies for patients in hospitals and other public healthcare facilities.

World Health Organisation (WHO) experts said on Monday that bacon, ham and sausages were as big a cancer threat as tobacco. Experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded 50g of processed meat eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.

The report also suggested that red meat was a likely cause of some cancers. The IARC, part of WHO, put processed meat such as hot dogs and ham 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.

‘Limited evidence’

The lower classification for red meat reflected “limited evidence” that it causes cancer. The agency for research on cancer found links mainly with bowel cancer, but also with pancreatic and prostate cancer, it said.

The Government did not comment on possible implications of the findings on Ireland’s €3 billion meat industry.

However, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said it was likely to have an immediate impact on eating habits, when speaking at the Macra na Feirme conference in Co Cork at the weekend before the report was published.

The HSE said the report linking red and processed meat to cancer was detailed and complex. “It will require careful consideration . . . to determine what action, if any, is needed regarding changes to nutritional plans for public health services.”

A spokesman for the Irish Farmers’ Association said consuming recommended quantities of red meat was well recognised by medical experts as being beneficial to health.

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