Processed Meat and the Industry Built on Cancer

A fork holding a slice of smoked pork meatWhat is Processed Meat?

Meat that is ‘processed’ is any meat which has been modified so that it can improve its taste or to extend its shelf life and usually falls into the categories of meat that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried or canned. For decades, the processed food industry has been leading us into believing that their products are nutritious and healthy. The processed meat industry, in particular, has been a dominant player in the market with products being served everywhere, from supermarkets to fast food chains,which appeals to children and adults alike, but this is most likely not the case.

Processed meat was inspired by the need for convenience. Hectic schedules, busy family lives, and an ever-increasing workload meant that everyone was looking for a quicker alternative than cooking from scratch. And processed meat appeared as the perfect answer which offered not only convenience but potentially essential nutrients as well. However, the price of convenience has taken a heavy toll on our health.

Processed food has always been an integral part of our cooking culture. We cut, rinse, cook, ferment and dry our food. All these are part of the process, but the processed meat industry which includes meat like bacon, ham, sausages, and salami to name a few, has added industrially processed chemicals to our daily diet.  The industrial process, which is standard for all mass-produced processed meat, strip the food of its nutrients while adding chemicals, preservatives and synthetic food additives.

Processed Meat, Addiction, and Overeating

Processed Meat with VegatablesFresh meat consists of proteins, fats, and water. When the meat is processed, the components change, which in turn transform how the meat is digested and assimilated in our bodies.  

Eating processed meat releases dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) which increases our chances of getting addicted to such types of food. This leads to a lifestyle where an individual consumes fewer nutrients and fiber but actually eats more as they derive greater pleasure from it. This is how addiction to processed meat starts – an individual feels good after eating and that leads to a repetitive cycle of consumption of such foods.

You might think that the relationship between dopamine and processed meat consumption is coincidental, but the reality is quite different. Processed meat companies are billion dollar empires such as McDonalds and Tyson Foods that pour in hundreds of millions of dollars into marketing and lobbying.  

The marketing campaigns of such companies aim to rope in consumers from the earliest time possible so they remain customers well into adulthood. The need for bacon to be an essential breakfast item and happiness can be found in a happy meal box are part of a campaign carefully derived to keep customers hungry for more.

Processed Meat and the Cancer Link

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report which classifies processed meat such as ham, bacon, salami and frankfurters as a Group 1 carcinogen. This translates into strong evidence suggesting that processed meat causes cancer. Epidemiological studies conducted by the WHO has found sufficient proof that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

Experts from multiple countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach a definitive conclusion. The studies found that consuming fifty grams of processed meat every day increases the chance of colorectal cancer by 18%. That translates to about four strips of bacon or one hot dog each day.

So Why Does Processed Meat Pose Such a Grave Threat?

Possessed sausage on a tableCertain chemicals such as N-Nitroso compounds and polycyclic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic in nature, are produced during the production of processed meats. Cooking processed meats also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are found in air pollution. Furthermore, nitrite and nitrate preservatives used to increase the shelf life of processed meats also release chemicals upon digestion that can lead to bowel cancer.

A recent outbreak of food poisoning in South Africa led to a discovery of high amounts of bacteria in uncooked processed meats such as frankfurters. This type of bacteria was found to be exceptionally dangerous for children, the elderly and pregnant women.

Alternatives to Processed Meat

The average person would be surprised that many healthy and budget-friendly alternatives already exist on the market. These substitutes offer a healthier and better lifestyle than processed meats without compromising on taste.

Replace processed meats such as ham, bacon or prosciutto with healthier proteins such as chicken, tuna, salmon or eggs. To make meals more exciting and healthier, the addition of tomatoes, mushroom, baked beans, hummus or avocado are a good choice to start off with. For more flavor, herbs, chili or smoked paprika can be used.

Response of Processed Meat Producers

The PR managers of processed meat companies have tried to dismiss the WHO’s report that links processed meat to an increase in cancer. They suggest that the study was not conclusive and not backed by enough members. They refute the claims of the report and have since published their own studies as a counter-argument to protect the industry and the massive profits from the sale of processed meats.


The ramifications of the evidence found by the World Health Organization basically identify processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, which is the same category as tobacco. It essentially translates into a call for action to drastically transform heavy processed meat diets into healthier diets.

Heavy advertising and lobbying by processed meat companies have made it harder to overcome mental and social barriers for what is a radical change. Large amounts of money are spent to ensure that people continue with their current choice of processed meats. These factors grouped together with the convenience of on the go meat make it even harder to get rid of foods which have become an integral part of our culture.

For a brighter and healthier tomorrow, it is essential to get rid of foods that are causing deaths and illnesses. Children should be encouraged from a young age to eat healthily and adults can opt for a healthier lifestyle with alternatives that are proven to be better for health.