WHO report may trigger warning labels on processed and red meat packaging

26 October 2015 (Last Updated October 26th, 2015 18:30)

A report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying consumption of red and processed meats as carcinogenic to humans may lead to new warning labels being featured on packaged meat products.

A report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying consumption of red and processed meats as carcinogenic to humans may lead to new warning labels being featured on packaged meat products.

Similar to those found on tobacco products, warning labels will enable food companies to alleviate consumer concerns and allow the latter to make informed choices.

Transparency of information on processed meat used in food products will become even important for food companies than ever before to allay consumer concerns.

Trace One global sales SVP Shaun Bossons said: "As with any newly discovered health scare, the primary concern for retailers and the food industry will be reassuring customers.

"We may be facing a future where processed meat needs to have the same prominence on labelling as nuts."

"While most consumers will still weigh up the risks before bringing home some bacon, they are likely to be increasingly aware of the presence of processed meat in the products they buy.

"To ensure they retain consumer trust, retailers and manufacturers must be certain that they are completely transparent about what products include processed meat, and to what extent. Beyond this, they also need to communicate this information to shoppers. We may be facing a future where processed meat needs to have the same prominence on labelling as nuts.

"To ensure they keep pace, retailers, manufacturers and suppliers must be able to quickly and accurately share and act on information across the entire supply chain. Individual retailers and brands will need to decide just how they create and present their products in the wake of this news, but they should be certain that they are still giving consumers the information they need to make an informed choice."

US environmental group Center for Biological Diversity notes that in the wake of the WHO report, the state of California will require firms to carry warning labels on their processed and red meat products in accordance with its Proposition 65.

Approved in 1986, Prop 65 requires the state to create a list of all chemicals and substances identified by WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as 'carcinogenic to humans'.

According to the law, firms operating or selling their products in the state need to provide a 'clear and reasonable' warning on a listed ingredient or substance.

Center for Biological Diversity population and sustainability director Stephanie Feldstein said: "The World Health Organisation has put these meats in the same category as cigarettes in terms of the death and danger they deliver.

"Now, California must follow suit with public health warnings on the label. And it's no surprise, the science has been clear that these meats are bad for people, not to mention for wildlife and the planet."

The report has been published by the IARC following a thorough research conducted by a working group of 22 experts from ten countries.

The IARC research has indicated processed meat in the highest category of agents classified as 'carcinogenic to humans', similar to cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.

On the other hand, red meat has been classified under the second-highest category of cancer-causing agent.

IARC monographs programme head Dr Kurt Straif said: "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.

"In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."