Consumers ignore cancer risks of eating red meat

By Emily Dugan and Charlotte Browne

Published: 02 November 2007


“There’s nothing like a bacon sarnie with brown sauce,” says 36-year-old Nicola Doran as she waits in the queue at JBS butchers in east London.

Ms Doran’s sentiments have been echoed across the country by meat enthusiasts who are turning a blind eye to the latest announcement from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which states that bacon is such a cancer risk it should be avoided entirely.

The mother-of-two said: “It wouldn’t put me off eating pork or bacon. I’m Irish, and people in Ireland were born and bred on pork; it’s their number one meat and it never did them any harm.”

It is business as usual in the Tower Hamlets butchers, providers of meat to the east London community for the past 30 years. John Gaynor, manager of JBS, is convinced that shoppers will not take the latest scare over the relationship between meat consumption and cancer seriously.

“People have been eating pork for donkey’s years,” he said, standing behind a display of gammon, pork chops and ribs. “Cancer will either get you or it won’t. People wouldn’t eat anything if they listened to the news all the time.”

Despite the WCRF warning on the dangers of processed meat, butchers and meat-lovers have remained optimistic. The study, which used analysis from 7,000 cancer studies from around the world, said that food such as salami, ham and bacon was such a risk factor for bowel cancer that it should be cut completely from our diets.

Lynn Church, a 46-year-old artist who has been going to JBS butchers for years, said that cutting out bacon completely seemed excessive. “You should have everything in moderation. Some of the things the media say might put me off but basically everything’s OK in moderation.”

The WCRF study also suggested a link between red-meat consumption and bowel cancer, and recommended that people should cut back their intake to 500g a week.

Chris Lamb, the Meat and Livestock Commission’s consumer marketing manager, said that people in the meat industry were not overly concerned by the news. “We don’t think it will be a problem,” he said. “The report recommends that people eat an average of 500g of cooked red meat a week, which is actually what the average consumer is doing already.”

Mr Lamb said that similar recent concerns over the healthiness of meat had so far not affected trade. “Over the past couple of years there have been other reports saying similar things, but we can’t identify any reduction in meat consumption – in fact it has been up recently. We’d be very surprised if there was a reaction from consumers. People are intelligent: they’ll just say ‘sod it’ and get on with it.”

He questioned the science of the link, saying that while meat consumption had fallen, colo-rectal cancer rates have risen. “If you go back 50 years, when chicken was still a luxury, people used to eat red meat two or even three times a day. But bacon consumption has gone down 30 per cent since 1970, yet colo-rectal cancer rates are up by 10 per cent.”

He added: “There’s obviously an incongruity between these figures and the extreme message from the WCRF. If you look around the world you would expect there to be a direct relationship between the amount of meat eaten and the instances of colorectal cancers, but there simply is not.”

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