SYDNEY/LONDON/RIO DE JANEIRO • Meat producers around the world have ridiculed a landmark United Nations report linking sausages and ham to cancer, while meat lovers say the warning will not make them change their diet.
Australia, one of the world's top meat exporters, said yesterday it was "a farce" to suggest sausages and ham could be as lethal as cigarettes.
"No, it shouldn't be compared to cigarettes and obviously that makes the whole thing a farce - comparing sausages to cigarettes," Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told national radio.
"I don't think that we should get too excited that if you have a sausage, you're going to die of bowel cancer because you're not. You just don't want to live on sausages."
The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) analysed 800 studies from around the world and found that processed meats such as sausages, ham and hot dogs cause bowel or colorectal cancer, and red meat "probably" does too.
It placed processed meat into its Group 1 category of carcinogens. Other substances in the group include alcohol, asbestos and tobacco.
In Britain, an advisory body funded by British meat producers said the key to preventing cancer was avoiding heavy drinking, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, The Guardian newspaper reported.
"Red and processed meats do not give you cancer," Professor Robert Pickard, a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and emeritus professor of neurobiology at the University of Cardiff, was quoted as saying.
The North American Meat Institute (Nami) said IARC "tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome".
Nami vice-president Betsy Booren pointed to the high consumption of processed meats as part of the famed, health-promoting Mediterranean diet.
In Hong Kong, where bowel cancer is the No. 2 top-killing tumour, the food industry blasted the findings as "too rash", saying that they failed to specify what kind of preservatives and additives in processed meat are carcinogenic.
At Rio de Janeiro's famed Churrascaria Palace restaurant, systems analyst Gilson Gregoris, 59, said not even the United Nations could change his favourite menu.
Brazilians eat almost three times as much meat as average European Union residents, according to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development figures from last year, while the huge country is also a leading producer of beef and other livestock.
"I eat meat almost every day," Mr Gregoris said. "I know it's not good. But it's good!"