Red meat has been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans and processed meat has been classified as carcinogenic to humans in a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the WHO, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme found that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans.

This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer, the WHO report found.

Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

The report concluded that each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Cliona Foley Nolan from Safefood speaking on Newstalk said over the course of a week, or weeks, that 50g per day, two slices of bacon a day, is an issue.

“Processed meat is meat that has had smoked or salt or preservatives added – those are appearing to cause the difficulty. Salami, cooked/sliced ham, rashers, sausages, maple cured; all those [are processed meats].

“When planning the week out…having mince or beef, or pork chop or lamb chop – the right side of a week’s eating is some chicken, a bit of pork, some fish, some lamb, some beef.

“What you are cutting down with meat bulk that up with plenty of veg or beans. Yes – you do need red meat for growth but in moderation,” she said.

Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of the IARC, said that these findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat.

“At the same time, red meat has nutritional value.

“Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations,” he said.