Processed meats have been around for quite a long time; it has allowed us to stock and store food long periods of time, and has made portable, a vital source of protein. However it was during the Industrial Revolution that the mass production of processed meats really took off. But this commodity which was meant to mobilize workers, has lead to a mass epidemic of subsequent illnesses.
As a result of an extensive study done by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) relating to processed meat, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared both processed and red meats as a major source of carcinogens, or cancer causing agents. This year, the WHO will begin assessing the public health implications of the mass consumption of processed and red meats, and has recently begun to support a switch to poultry, fish and beans as primary sources of protein, rather than beef, pork, and other herded animals.
The IARC study confirmed that processed meats include: “hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.” The study found that as much as 18 percent of the population that eats red and/or processed meats regularly as part of their daily diet, will contract stomach or stomach related cancer.
The carcinogens found in red meats are produced when exposed to high temperature and are often overcooked. This practice of overcooking, however, comes from a concern borne out of fear of the dangers of undercooked meats, which promote the presence of harmful bacteria. Therefore, a very relevant debate is sparked between a concern over increased cancer risks and a concern over the immediate safety of meats. However, the WHO argument supports that both concerns can be successfully addressed by switching to a diet that excludes red and processed meats, altogether, and using alternative animal protein.