Search icon

UN confirms processed meat causes cancer

Today the UN’s public health arm - World Health Organisation (WHO) - has classified processed meats, such as ham and sausages, as carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

The report from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer states that each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily (equivalent to two rashers of bacon) increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Not an isolated report

This is not an isolated report with many previous studies advising a reduction in red meat and processed meat consumption because of their links with cancer.

Compassion has long highlighted the negative impacts on human health of industrial livestock production. The high levels of red and processed meat consumption, made possible by industrial farming, lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as causing certain cancers.

Unsustainable demand for meat

Industrial livestock production has negative effects not only on human health but also on the environment and animal welfare.

Around two in every three farm animals are factory farmed in intensive systems that prioritise production above all else, creating vast quantities of seemingly cheap meat, milk and eggs. But factory farming comes at a cost. Animals are treated as commodities and are often raised in intense confinement. Factory farming is highly dependent on large quantities of precious resources, including cereals, water and energy. It also involves the use of antibiotics, which in turn has serious consequences for human health as it can increase the chance of bacteria becoming antibiotic-resistant.

With a growing global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, the unsustainable demand for more and more meat poses a significant threat not only to our environment and health but to our planet.

A cause of climate change

Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, produced an interim report on climate change in August (source). She stresses that “The world’s current consumption pattern of meat and dairy products is a major driver of climate change and climate change can only be effectively addressed if demand for these products is reduced.”

Hilal adds: “Nations with emerging economies must increase awareness of the implications of meat consumption, while developed countries should demonstrate a willingness to modify consumption behaviour and avoid food waste.”

The WHO’s report is just the latest in a series of expert studies that all point to the fact that we need to address meat consumption and industrial livestock production. Not just to end the suffering caused to billions of animals through factory farming or the effects of intensive agriculture on the planet but also to protect our health.

Find out more about how intensive farming affects human health.

Choose higher welfare

Higher welfare animal products cause less animal suffering. Buying them will encourage investment in higher welfare farming which is smaller scale and poses fewer risks to animals, people and the planet. Find out more and download our Compassionate Food Guide.