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Moderation is key in eating meat

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 27/10/2015

When a body of the status of the World Health Organisation warns that processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages cause cancer and that fresh red meat is probably carcinogenic it is bound to set alarm bells ringing, especially among Northern Ireland people who are well known for their love of an Ulster fry
When a body of the status of the World Health Organisation warns that processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages cause cancer and that fresh red meat is probably carcinogenic it is bound to set alarm bells ringing, especially among Northern Ireland people who are well known for their love of an Ulster fry

When a body of the status of the World Health Organisation warns that processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages cause cancer and that fresh red meat is probably carcinogenic it is bound to set alarm bells ringing, especially among Northern Ireland people who are well known for their love of an Ulster fry.

But, as ever with such reports, the devil is in the detail. While the headlines may send a chill through meat eaters, there is actually very little or no evidence to say that we should all give up eating meat or meat products.

Even if we all were to eat two rashers of bacon every day for the rest of our lives the risk of anyone getting bowel cancer - the type of the disease affected by consumption of processed meat - would increase merely from 5% to 6%.

Statistically that may be a significant figure but it is not a compelling reason for cutting out all meat consumption.

Even cancer experts admit that the occasional bacon buttie will do little harm in the long run.

It also has to be remembered that the causes of cancer are often quite complex and take in other lifestyle factors, not just diet. And, certainly, eating processed meats is a lot less dangerous as far as contracting cancer is concerned than smoking or drinking.

While health must be the priority when considering the impact of the WHO report, it must be taken in perspective, not just for our own peace of mind but also because of the economic impact it could have on the province.

We are proud of our locally produced foodstuffs and our ability to trace the very farm our meat products come from. We also have a very vibrant meat processing industry with 80% of beef produced being exported, most of it to other regions of the UK.

Consumer confidence in the safety of fresh beef and meat products is vital to the industry, which is a very large employer in Northern Ireland - and there is no need to panic.

As ever, moderation is the key word when contemplating how to react to this report. If red meat - or even processed products - is consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet then the danger of contracting cancer from it is minimal.

A sensible diet should contain other products such as chicken, fish or pork, as well as a healthy serving of vegetables. But we shouldn't really need WHO to tell us that.

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