It is still okay to eat processed meat, says the WHO
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been forced to issue a clarification saying it is not telling people to never eat processed meat, such as sausages and bacon.
It said a recent study, which suggested that eating more than 50g of processed meat daily could raise the risk of bowel cancer, was misinterpreted.
It received queries, expressions of concern and requests for clarification following the publication of a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) relating to processed meat and colorectal cancer.
IARC's review confirms the recommendation in WHO's 2002 report called 'Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases'. This advised people to moderate consumption of preserved meat to reduce the risk of cancer.
The WHO clarified that it was not advising complete exclusion of processed meats.
"The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. WHO has a standing group of experts who regularly evaluate the links between diet and disease.
"Early next year they will meet to begin looking at the public health implications of the latest science and the place of processed meat and red meat within the context of an overall healthy diet."
The report caused a storm after it appeared to place processed meats in the same category as cigarettes - although the risks of getting cancer from smoking are much higher.
It also said that red meat such as beef posed a "probable" risk if eaten regularly in significant quantities, although the evidence for this is still limited.
However, avoiding or limiting dietary intake of processed meat can help to reduce the risk of certain cancers, the Irish Cancer Society said on Monday.
Safefood's expert, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, advised people to confine an Irish fry to one day a week and not to have more than one sausage and one rasher. She also advised people not to have red meat every day and opt for chicken and fish instead.
The Irish Cancer Society said there is strong scientific evidence to support avoiding or limiting the consumption of processed meat, which has been linked to colorectal cancer.
The Society said a diet high in red and processed meat is "linked to bowel cancer, and recommends avoiding processed meats and reducing the consumption of cooked red meat to 500 grams per week."
As part of a balanced diet the Society advocates eating more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses, cutting down on foods high in calories, fat and sugar, reducing alcohol intake and cutting down on salt.
Eating a healthy diet, being physically active and being a healthy weight can reduce a cancer risk by one-third.
To download a booklet and other resources on reducing your risk of cancer visit www.cancer.ie/publications/reduce-your-risk on the Society's website.