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Meat Industry Hits Back over Cancer and Meat Claims

18 January 2012

UK - The British pig industry has hit back following the publication in the British Journal of Cancer by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm suggesting eating two rashers of bacon a day can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 19 per cent.

A statement from the British Pig Executive, BPEX, said: "There is no evidence that a moderate intake of lean red meat, when consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet, has any negative health effects.

"It is over-simplistic and misleading to link a single food or category of food to a specific disease such as cancer. Cancer like other chronic diseases is multi-factorial and a wide range of diet and lifestyle factors are thought to contribute.

"One of the key limitations of these types of studies is that processed meat is typically poorly defined. As a category it encompasses a wide range of products and patterns of consumption differ around the world.

"Average consumption of bacon in this country is well below the amount mentioned in the report so the vast majority of people would have nothing to worry about."

In a report on the website Sense about Science, Nigel Hawkes, Director of Straight Statistics says: “According to the researchers the risk of developing pancreatic cancer is quite small, one in 77 for men and one in 79 for women. Office of National Statistics mortality figures don't quite agree. They show 7,146 people dying of pancreatic cancer in 2009, out of a total of 489,097 deaths, i.e. one in 68.

"If eating one less sausage a day reduced the risks by 19 per cent, as the paper suggests, the risk of dying of pancreatic cancer would be reduced to one in 84. The deaths saved per year would be 1,357. If we take the population of the UK to be 60 million, and assume 50 million eat sausages (subtracting infants and vegetarians) then more than 36,000 people would have to make this dietary change to save one death per year.”

The report adds: "In our Making Sense of Statistics guide writer and broadcaster Michael Blastland said: 'Why do reports prefer to talk about relative percentage risks without mentioning the absolute risk? The suspicion must be that this allows the use of ‘bigger numbers’: 20 per cent is big enough to be a scare, an absolute change of one per cent or even 1 person in every 100, is less disturbing'.”

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