Bioethics Blogs

Let Them Eat Bacon! November 5, 2015 Of all the things in this world that are likely to kill…

November 05, 2015

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Director of the Bioethics Program

That Earth-shattering noise that you heard last week was the sound of a billion bacon-lovers, myself included, screaming out in agony after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meats as a definite human carcinogen and also classified red meat as a probable human carcinogen. After newspapers proclaimed that eating bacon was as dangerous as smoking cigarettes — one such headline in the Guardian, a British newspaper, proclaimed that “Processed Meats Rank Alongside Smoking as Cancer Cause” — carnivores around the world were left wondering if they would need to give up their beloved meaty treats.

The answer is no. What the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer — a group of 22 independent public health and cancer experts — found after reviewing 800 studies looking at environmental and lifestyle factors that contribute to cancer is this: eating 50 grams or more of processed meats like bacon or sausage daily raises an individual’s lifetime risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Similarly, regularly eating 100 grams of red meat is associated with a 17% increase in risk. Based on these findings, the WHO classified these meats as group 1 carcinogens, the same cancer-causing category as tobacco.

This does not mean that eating bacon is as bad as smoking.

First of all, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies potential carcinogens into five categories based only on the weight of evidence that they are causally linked to cancer, not on the degree of cancer risk.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.