According to the WHO, processed meats such as those used to make sausages can lead to more serious health risks than previously thought.
The organisation's latest report suggests that having just 50g of processed meat a day – less than two slices of bacon or one sausage – increases the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
It is the first time that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that there is “sufficient evidence” to make the link.
Risk rises with consumption
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) Monographs Programme said in a statement on Monday.
How could something as delicious as Currywurst be so bad for you? Photo: DPA
“Each 50-gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” he added.
The IARC Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets.
It concluded that there was also “limited evidence” to suggest that the consumption of red meat could cause colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer, but said that more research needed to be done in this area.
The decision is likely to be felt particularly keenly in Germany, where figures from the Federation of the German Meat Industry (BVDF) show that people eat around 60 kilogrammes of meat each per year.
At 160 grammes per person per day, that's much higher than the European average of 24 grammes per head cited by Brussels-based meat processing industry body CLITRAVI.
When asked by The Local to comment, the BVDF responded with a statement from CLITRAVI, which said that “the European meat manufacturing industry strongly rejected the new classification made by the IARC… [and] has pro-actively stepped forward with the aim of providing as many details as possible.
“CLITRAVI recommends a more holistic approach… there is extensive scientific evidence to prove the benefits of meat consumption within a healthy diet. Meat and meat products are an essential source of nutrients,” it went on.
Could it be time to make Schwarzwalder Schinken a rarer treat? Photo: DPA
The statement added that a number of other factors, such as colon disease, obesity, lack of exercise and tobacco use bore a higher risk of cancer than meat consumption.
“It is not just one specific food group by itself that defines the risks associated with health, but the diet as a whole, together with any of the other factors.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Berlin was unable to comment immediately on the WHO decision when contacted by The Local.
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But choosing to reduce meat consumption for their health might not be a total disaster for Germans.
As chef Stefan Paul explained to The Local in September, “German cooking in former times was largely one of poor people.
“The Sunday roast was the only meat, and the exception to the rule. In Germany there's actually a big tradition of vegetarian cooking.”
Germans have only started eating such a large amount of meat since the “economic miracle” that followed the Second World War, Paul said at the time.