The British Pig Executive has urged parents not to shun pork products after a leading cancer charity said children’s packed lunches should not contain ham and processed meats.

BPEX said people should use common sense over what they feed their children after claims by the World Cancer Research Fund that eating bacon, ham and salami over decades increased the risk of bowel cancer.

While there was no specific research on eating meats in childhood, the charity said children should avoid processed meats and adopt a healthy eating pattern from the age of five.

Marni Craze, children’s education manager for the WCRF, said: “If children have processed meat in their lunch every day then over the course of a school year they will be eating quite a lot of it.

“It is better if children learn to view processed meat as an occasional treat if it is eaten at all.”

But Mick Sloyan, BPEX chief executive, said there was a place for ham in lunchboxes and urged parents not to be put off from buying processed meats.

“The Foods Standards Agency has said processed meats can form part of a balanced diet. No one expects kids to eat ham sandwiches day after day.”

Mr Sloyan said many studies claim elevated risks of cancer came from eating three or more rashers of bacon a day.

“I don’t know many people who eat that amount,” he said. “From the reactions of parents they have got more sense and can see through this report.

“If there are parents putting ham sandwiches in lunchboxes every day, it’s right that they rethink what children are eating.

“What the charity is really saying is there’s an issue about exercise, diet and obesity. It would be better off promoting habits that result in greater exercise and balanced diets.”