Israelis are, per capita, one of the world's smallest consumers of pork products – and that's a healthy thing, the World Health Organization said in a new report. Much of the rest of the developed world gorges itself on processed pig products such as bacon, sausage, and ham – processed meats that carry with them as strong a risk for cancer as cigarettes.
The report by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that there was enough medical evidence at this point to link over-consumption of cured products – mostly from pork, but some from beef as well – with high levels of colon cancer. With each 50 gram (1.8 ounce) portion of the stuff consumed daily, the chance of contracting colorectal cancer for the average person rose 18%.
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs program, said in a statement. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
According to the study, there was a clear correlation between consumption of processed meat and colorectal cancer. According to WHO statistics, the three top countries in the developed world for colorectal cancer per 100,000 inhabitants were South Korea, Slovakia, and Hungary – all significant consumers of pork, according to the IARC numbers.
Israel, as expected, has one of the world's lowest levels of pork consumption. For poultry, however - considered far healthier than red meat by most nutritionists - Israelis had the highest annual consumption in the developed world, eating over 60 kg per capita annually, significantly more than in the US, which came in second with about 47 kg per capita consumption annually.
Speaking to The Guardian, Prof Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said that “Cancer Research UK supports IARC’s decision that there’s strong enough evidence to classify processed meat as a cause of cancer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer. We’ve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.”
Not all agreed with the conclusion, however. According to the North American Meat Institute, defining red meat as a cancer hazard “defied common sense,” said The Guardian. “Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by the IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard’. Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by the IARC not to cause cancer.
“The IARC says you can enjoy your yoga class, but don’t breathe air (class 1 carcinogen), sit near a sun-filled window (class 1), apply aloe vera (class 2B) if you get a sunburn, drink wine or coffee (class 1 and class 2B), or eat grilled food (class 2A). And if you are a hairdresser or do shift work (both class 2A), you should seek a new career.”