Veggie medics wrong on red meat hospital advice, says AHDB

A niche group of medics suggesting hospitals should stop serving sausages and bacon have misunderstood the report they are relying on to support their claim, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The Plant Based Health Professionals group quoted a 2015 International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) report, suggesting it showed a person has as much chance of developing cancer if they eat processed meat as they would if they smoked or handled asbestos.

Therefore, patients, staff and visitors should not be served these products, the group insisted.

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But Maureen Strong, nutrition manager for AHDB, which represents 72% of agricultural output in Great Britain, said the IARC report looks at hazards only and to suggest otherwise is misleading.

“It is a worrying that this small group of medical professionals, who people may look to for advice, are suggesting something that it is completely not true,” she said.

“At best, they have misunderstood the report. At worst, it seems that they are pushing a lifestyle change that could have a negative effect on the health of some people.”

‘Follow the science’

People should expect our hospitals to respect the importance of scientific evidence to inform policy decisions, said Ms Strong.

“To suggest that the IARC report on processed meat implies that it causes cancer is wrong. IARC merely performed a hazard analysis, which in no way proves cause and effect,” she added.

“A banana skin on the ground is a hazard, but it does not mean that all banana skins can cause accidents and are, therefore, potentially harmful to health. While the IARC has placed processed meat in the same hazard analysis category as tobacco smoking and asbestos, the World Health Organization does point out that this does not mean they are all equally dangerous.”

Ms Strong said it was worth noting that processed meat is in the same hazard analysis category as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and contraception pills, both of which are prescribed by doctors and for which there is no suggestion of any change in behaviour.

“NHS administration should take note of this to avoid making ill-informed policy decisions that could mislead the general public.”

Under IARC definitions, most fresh sausages sold in the UK would not fall into the category of processed meat.