The BBC report is based on a scientific article titled 'Red and processed meat consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: meta-analysis of prospective studies', by SC Larsson and A Wolk of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, published online in the British Journal of Cancer.
Now, I do not eat much meat, and I certainly don't eat a sausage every day. But should I add sausage and bacon to the list of things to give up this year? I think that if I am going to deprive myself of bacon butties, I ought to make my mind up in rational way, taking responsibility for my own decisions and actions. So, I read Larsson and Wolk's article to find out what it says. Here's what I found out.
I noted that it does not lay any specific charges against sausages and bacon. Its primary conclusion relates to 'processed meat consumption' being associated with risk of pancreatic cancer, not sausages or bacon in particular. The risk related to red meat consumption would seem, on my reading of the article, to be related to men. The researchers also state that further research is needed to confirm their findings.
Importantly, I noted that bacon is not mentioned once in the article. Sausages get only one mention and it did not seem to me to be particularly worrying. It is the compounds used in some meat processing which the researches say could in theory be biologically associated with increased risk. In particular, Larsson and Wolk identify nitrite, which they say 'may also contain N-nitroso compounds' used as preservatives in processed meat which 'are potent carcinogens that have been shown to induce pancreatic cancer in animal models'. However, they go on to note that a prior study by Lin et al examined whether ham and sausage consumption are 'associated' with risk of pancreatic cancer, but found 'no statistically significant association' in smokers or non-smokers'.
The researchers also noted that not all of the other research which they examined in carrying out their meta-analysis study had controlled for other factors that might be relevant, such as body mass index and diabetes.
Verdict for the sausages and bacon? Based on what I read, my impression is 'not guilty' beyond reasonable doubt, but the case may not be closed.
I think I am happy to take responsibility for my own actions, and even live a little dangerously on this one....And, let's face it, there is a vast choice out there, and surely its possible to find a safe sausage in the shops? But that leads me to another question I find myself asking: is traditionally cured bacon, and free-range organic sausage, the same thing as 'processed meat'? What is 'processed meat' exactly? Do all sausages have chemicals in them? I have never thought to ask until now...perhaps, just to be sure, next time I visit the butcher I will be sure to ask for 'N-nitroso free sausages'...