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World Health Organization Warns Processed, Red Meats Can Cause Cancer

The World Health Organization issued a statement early Monday warning that based on evidence from hundreds of studies, eating processed meat such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham — which is salted, cured or smoked to enhance or preserve flavor — can cause cancer.

Although the organization said its finding is important because of the wide consumption of processed meats, officials added that red meats such as steaks and lamb shanks – which could also be carcinogenic — still offer “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,” Christopher Wild, head of the WHO’s cancer agency, said 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.

The report, which classified processed meats in the same category with smoking and asbestos, also links the meats to colon or colorectal cancer, noting that eating two slices of ham each day can increase the risk of such cancer by 18 percent.

Meanwhile, with the meat industry claiming that WHO’s findings are misleading, Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute, said the data “was tortured” to ensure a specific outcome.

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