Red meat, processed meat and cancer: an update on the new classification by the IARC
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News of 26/10/2015
In a press release issued today, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified the consumption of red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat) as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A) and that of processed meat (after salting, curing, fermentation, etc.) as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). ANSES studied the subject in 2011 in the framework of a comprehensive review of the relationship between nutrition and cancer that already clearly showed a convincing relationship between the consumption of red meat or processed meats (delicatessen meat products) and an increase in the probability of developing certain cancers. ANSES's recommendations, which remain applicable, aim to limit the consumption of meat to 500g per week at the most and, by a balanced diet, to vary the sources of animal protein (eggs, meat, fish) and the types of meat. The Agency reiterates that cancers are complex diseases, and that the risks related to the consumption of a particular food must be set against the benefits they can provide, including their nutritional value.
The IARC has today published the main conclusions of its work on the classification of red and processed meats. The consumption of red meat is classified as probably carcinogenic for humans (Group 2A), particularly as regards colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. As for processed meat, it is classified as carcinogenic for humans (Group 1), on the basis of a sufficient indication of a link between consumption of these products and colorectal cancer. The experts of the working group concluded, in particular, that "each 50-gram portion of processed meat consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%".
ANSES has already worked on the subject in the framework of a comprehensive review of the relationship between nutrition and cancer, which particularly included evidence on red and processed meat. In its report "Nutrition and Cancer" published in 2011, the Agency showed a convincing relationship between the consumption of red meat or processed meats (delicatessen meat products) and an increase in the likelihood of developing cancer of the colon and rectum.
In this context, ANSES's recommendations for diversifying the sources of protein by alternating between meat, eggs or fish and by limiting the consumption of red meat to less than 500 grams per week, through a balanced diet, remain applicable.
The Agency also reiterates that cancers are complex diseases, resulting from interactions between a large number of factors that may be genetic in nature (specific to each individual), behavioural (smoking, physical activity, etc.) or environmental in the broad sense, including the diet. With regard to diet, ANSES emphasises the need to take into account, apart from the risks, any nutritional benefits potentially associated with the foods concerned. It is currently working on this issue in the framework of the updating of the national food and nutritional benchmarks, which will support the recommendations of the National Health and Nutrition Programme.
The IARC monographs have not yet been published, but it may be possible to clarify these recommendations by reviewing the data when they become available.
More generally, ANSES would like to remind consumers that the best way to prevent risk is to follow a balanced and varied diet to achieve the recommended nutritional intake, with a calorie intake that matches energy consumption and regular physical activity.