Meat trade representatives argued that consumers would not cut meat from their diet as a result of “yet another scare”, while the Department of Health (DH) stressed the need for red meat as part of a balanced diet.
The news follows research from Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute, which revealed that eating 50g of processed meat a day increased the risk of pancreatic cancer in both men and women by up to 10%.
Clare Cheney, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “This sounds like yet another scare aimed at frightening people from eating a certain type of food.
“I think consumers are unlikely to stop eating meat as a result of something like this as bacon and sausages are extremely popular. It is unlikely that this will affect sales in the long term.”
Cheney’s comments were supported by Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association.
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I don’t think people will cut meat from their diet as a result of this. People tend to be confused by these things as they are bombarded with them so frequently.
“Red meat forms part of a balanced diet and has a range of nutritional benefits, so eating meat in this way is not going to damage you.”
The problem with these studies was that they they failed to isolate all the factors that lead to people living an unhealthy lifestyle, added Rossides.
The DH responded to the news by highlighting the need for consumers to follow a balanced diet, that included red meat, but it confirmed that eating too much did lead to an increased cancer risk.
A spokesman for the DH said: “It's important that everyone eats a balanced diet. Eating well and being active can help prevent serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease later in life.
"Red meat can be part of a balanced diet. But people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should consider cutting down as regularly eating a lot could increase your risk of bowel cancer.”
However, the Meat Panel Advisory Group (MPA) said that it remained “cautious” about studies that targeted certain types of food and called for more in-depth research on the subject.
Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist on the MPA, said: “I am always cautious about drawing conclusions from these types of studies because they do not properly control for other factors which influence the cancer risk.
“If someone regularly has a bacon roll with a cigarette and a litre of fizzy pop and then develops pancreatic cancer later in life, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what has caused the cancer,” she added.
“We need better controlled studies to do this.”