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World health body says processed meat causes cancer

Like your daily hot dog or bacon sandwich? You may want to think again.

The World Health Organization said Monday that eating processed meat such as sausages and ham causes cancer, while unprocessed red meat may also be carcinogenic.

The WHO's cancer research unit now classifies processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans" based on evidence from hundreds of studies.

The report outlined that simply eating 50 grams of processed meat each day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. However, the authors say the risks are relatively small to begin with.

Most processed meat contains pork or beef, but may also contain poultry. The WHO placed such products in the same category as smoking and asbestos, based on its certainty of a link with cancer, but stressed that did not mean they were equally dangerous.

Unprocessed red meat such as steak and lamb shanks is classified as "probably carcinogenic."

The WHO said the finding was important for public health since processed meat is so widely consumed. However, it said red meat still has "nutritional value."

"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," said Christopher Wild, head of the WHO's cancer agency, in a statement.

According to estimates cited by the WHO, about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide can be attributed to diets that are high in processed meat.

However, meat industry groups slammed the WHO report as biased and misleading.

"They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome," said Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute.

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