Czech meat industry denounces UN report on cancer risks

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

Czechs have a reputation as some of the biggest meat eaters in Europe but their carnivorous habits could be taking a hit after a United Nations agency suggested that eating processed meats and red meats can seriously increase the chances of cancer.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
Czechs, like most of their Central European counterparts and neighbouring Germans, are some of the biggest meat eaters in Europe. The average Czech consumes around 75 kilograms of meat a year and sausages and salami often take pride of place on domestic dishes. But a report from a United Nations agency charged with combatting cancer could make those meat eaters think twice. The findings published at the start of the week suggested there are clear links between meat eating and some of the most common forms of cancer.

Kurt Straif is head of research at the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and explained the latest findings.

“The working group concluded that the consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans and this was based primarily on strong evidence that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. There was also an association observed with stomach cancer.”

The WHO study found that there also appeared to be an increased cancer risk from eating red meat which had not been processed but here the evidence was not so clear cut and this has been labelled as just ‘probably carcinogenic’ for humans.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
One of the main takeaway’s from the research is that eating just 50 grammes of processed meat a day, that is equivalent to around two slices of bacon, can increase the risk of colon cancer by around 18 percent. The more processed meat consumed the higher the risk becomes. Processed meat is anything that has been altered by smoking, adding salt, curing, or adding preservatives meaning anything from sausages to salami.

The latest research bolters the findings from other studies about the risks from eating red and processed meat.

But the findings results have largely been downplayed or brushed off at Czech official levels and from groups representing farmers and the meat processing industry. Miroslav Toman is the president of the Czech Chamber of Agriculture and had this to say in response to the findings.

“As regards this information, we are waiting for the standpoint of the so-called EFSA organization which is the authority for food safety within the European Union because we have to comply with European rules and regulations. We will see what happens there. Nonetheless when you see what other substances smoked meats are now grouped with such as tobacco, plutonium and other substances, I can only smile. If people eat quality products and in reasonable amounts then everything should be alright.”

The Czech Meat Processors’ Association denounced the report as scaremongering and unfounded. Jan Katina is the association’s director.

Jan Katina,  photo: Alžběta Švarcová
“The findings on which this latest World Health Organisation survey is based on appear from time to time and already came out around 30 years ago. All that the WHO, or more specifically the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has done is research which combines the existing findings but unfortunately for us forgot about the positive aspects of smoked meats. All that has come out are the negative findings."

He expects no drop in Czech sales of smoked and processed meats.