That is, researchers from a World Health Organization working group called the International Agency for Research on Cancer put cured meat in the same cancer-causing category as cigarettes — it’s a “definite” cause of cancer. Bacon was classified as carcinogenic because eating it and other cured meats raises your risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. And red meat, according to the working group, is a “probable” cause of cancer.
Naturally the meat industry is all over this story, trying to defend its products. But meat producers aren’t the only ones protesting, and neither are bacon lovers. Would you believe at least one cancer prevention organization is defending bacon?
Cancer Research UK’s Science blog points out that the IARC’s report has been distorted by news outlets. It’s not that eating bacon puts you just as much at risk for cancer as smoking does or that bacon causes as much cancer as smoking. It’s that the researchers are as confident that bacon causes cancer as they are that smoking causes cancer. It’s a subtle but key difference.
On the other hand, the risk of getting cancer from smoking is much, much higher than it is from eating bacon.
How high is that sausage-cancer risk? Joshua A. Hirsch of Vocativ points out that the average person’s risk of getting colorectal cancer is 5 percent. He then says that when the IARC says eating 50 grams of cured meat raises your risk of that cancer by 18 percent, it means you’re raising that 5 percent risk by 18 percent, so it’s now at 6 percent.
So keep calm, and keep eating bacon. But not too much. Personally I would rather eat high-quality bacon less often than cheap bacon all the time. For me that means bacon from hogs not raised with growth hormones, antibiotics and other junky feed additives — preferably pasture-raised.
We already know it’s not healthy to eat large amounts of bacon all the time for several reasons, not just because of the cancer risk. But saying it’s as unhealthy as smoking cigarettes is ridiculous. Maybe save your bacon-eating for the weekend, but if anyone scolds you for ordering it at brunch, you now have science at your defense.