10 Mar 2018

Telling porkies: the big bacon cover up

From This Way Up, 12:15 pm on 10 March 2018

"The real scandal of bacon...is that it didn't have to be anything like so damaging to our health...The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco."  Bee Wilson in The Guardian

no caption

Photo: 123RF

The news that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day (about 2 rashers of bacon) would increase your risk of getting colorectal cancer by 18 percent freaked out many consumers when it was first released by the World Health Organisation in October 2015

The WHO also cited an independent study saying that around 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide could be attributed to diets high in "processed meat" which it defined as meat that has been "transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation".

But according to food writer Bee Wilson the meat industry has been well aware of the dangers of eating processed meat for decades before this, and has been concealing it from consumers.

Consumers deserve to be better informed, Wilson says.

She says studies on animals in the 1950s indicated additives used in processed meat - potassium nitrate and sodium nitrite  - are carcinogenic.

“We’re pretty confident these things are making thousands of people have preventable cancer every year – I personally would take them out.”

Wilson says it's possible to preserve meat using other chemicals - such as Parma ham producers in Italy who removed all nitrites from their products in the 1990s.

"To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home...To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast."  Bee Wilson in The Guardian