Processed meats should carry a warning label – public health expert

Public health researchers are calling for health warning labels, among other measures, to reduce the potential harm to health from over consumption of red and processed meat.

There is now strong scientific evidence of an increased risk of colorectal cancer with processed meat consumption, some evidence of red meats being associated with colorectal cancer and some evidence of an association between red and processed meat and cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, the University of Otago researchers say in a study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.


Health agencies could encourage reduced consumption through product labels, promotional campaigns and portion limits in schools and hospitals, they say.


In an email to Healthy Food Guide, lead author Christine Cleghorn says that from a public health perspective, there is now sufficient evidence to recommend a reduction in processed and red meat consumption. 


“There is strong evidence that reducing consumption of processed meat will reduce the risk of colorectal cancer at a population level. 


“A decrease in the average intake of processed and red meat in New Zealand would be likely to decrease the incidence of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; diseases that cause substantial health loss in New Zealand.”


Dr Cleghorn says nutrients found in red meat, such as protein, iron, zinc and B12 can be obtained from plant-based foods.


“Encouraging a decrease in processed and red meat consumption, with its knock-on effects onto livestock production, should have the additional benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and potentially reducing water pollution in New Zealand,” she says.


Related link: The benefits of constraining processed meat and red meat consumption in New Zealand: a public health perspective


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First published: November 2016

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