Published October 23, 2015
The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gathered health experts in France this month to discuss available research on such meat, with a view to classifying them on its scale of cancer risks. The conclusions will be published on Monday.
The review has prompted lobbying efforts from meat industry representatives who fear a headline conclusion about a likely cancer risk could tarnish the image of certain types of meat, just as previous IARC recommendations did with diesel fumes and the common weedkiller glyphosate.
In a sign of the tensions around the review, a report on Friday in British newspaper the Daily Mail saying the IARC would give processed meat the highest carcinogenic risk rating and red meat the second-highest one, drew immediate reactions.
"If this is actually IARC's decision it simply cannot be applied to people's health because it considers just one piece of the health puzzle: theoretical hazards," said Barry Carpenter, President of the North American Meat Institute.
The IARC said it would not comment on media reports, but would publish the outcome of its review at 1000 GMT (6.00 p.m.) on Monday, at the same time as a report to be published in scientific journal The Lancet Oncology.
Producers says meat provides essential protein, vitamins and minerals as part of a balanced diet. Red meat includes beef, pork and lamb, but not poultry.
Total worldwide meat consumption reached 310 million tonnes in 2013. This was up more than a quarter on 2003, supported by emerging market growth, with poultry's share increasing, data from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization show.
Business analysts said a cancer link in the scientific review may have a limited impact on industry sales and prices.
"I think people know you're not supposed to eat as much red meat as you do," said Liberum food industry analyst Robert Waldschmidt.
"(But) not everyone recognizes that some of these smoked and cured meats are bad for you, i.e. carcinogenic. I think on smoked, cured stuff it will have some negative impact."
The IARC already recommends avoiding processed meat and limiting red meat intake, and health experts in Britain advise limiting processed meat consumption for bowel cancer prevention.
But while there was a statistical association between eating processed meat and bowel cancer, "the size of the effect is relatively small, and the mechanism is poorly defined", said Ian Johnson of Britain's Institute of Food Research.