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Chinese diners hit by bad news on processed meat

Updated: 2015-10-28 07:20
By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily)

A lot of Chinese people who think they can't live without processed meat, including ham and hot dogs, may be saddened by the report released on Monday by the World Health Organization saying that processed meat contributes to cancer.

Foods containing preserved salted pork and ham are a culinary tradition in many parts of China.

It has long been suspected that processed meat damages health, according to Fan Zhihong, a researcher in nutrition and food safety at China Agricultural University. Studies have found that frequent consumption of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer and may also contribute to breast cancer, she said.

"A major reason for the rapid rise of incidence of colorectal cancer in China in the past few years is that of people are consuming more unhealthy food, including processed meat and fried or smoked food," she said.

Nitrites added in food processing may be the culprit because of chemical complications, she said.

According to a report released by China's National Health and Family Planning Commission in June, an unbalanced diet, including the excessive intake of fats and an inadequate intake of vegetables, is a major contributor to rising chronic diseases and weight gain in China over the past 10 years.

About 30 percent of people age 18 or above in China were overweight in 2012, a rise of 7.3 percentage points from 2002, the report said.

In 2013, the average consumption of red meat in China was 60 kilograms, almost twice as much as 20 years ago, according to media reports.

Fan, from China Agricultural University, said other substances are more dangerous than meat for causing cancer-tobacco, for instance-so there is no need to panic if consumption is light.

According to Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Programme, a group that evaluates cancer risks, "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."

Wang Ying, an employee at a financial business in Beijing, said she understands it is a good idea to reduce the consumption of processed meat, including ham and sausages. "But I don't think it is realistic to reject processed meat entirely, as they have been consumed for thousands of years."

Processed meat is carcinogenic to humans, according to a report released by the WHO on Monday. Eating 50-grams every day increases one's risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, it said. Processed meat includes hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat and meat-based sauces.

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