“Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes according to the WHO.”

Headlines similar to this caught the eyes of carnivores everywhere earlier this week when the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, ranked processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen. This proclamation puts processed meats in the same category as agents such as asbestos and arsenic because of their links to cancer.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small,” Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs program said. “But this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

However, contrary to many headlines, the IARC's announcement is not meant to classify processed foods as being just as hazardous as smoking. The classification only suggests a correlation between exposure and risk, not the magnitude of the risk.

Researchers concluded that a 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. By comparison, smokers are 25 times more likely to develop cancer than nonsmokers according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In another comparison by Cancer Research UK, smoking causes 19 percent of all cancers while meat consumption is thought to contribute to approximately 3 percent of diagnoses.

Other common agents already classified as group 1 carcinogens include alcohol, oral contraceptives, outdoor air pollution, sun exposure and x-ray radiation.

Will you need to swear off bacon forever? It's highly unlikely. As with most foods, moderation is key.

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