In the flurry of reports of the findings of a meta-study in the British Journal of Cancer a few of the journalists got it right. However, what sticks out is one from a better British paper who did not do their homework. No-one is going to get names here, but they did an equal job of botching reviews of TV food programmes last week. Somehow they had come up with the “fact” that 1 sausage is equal to 2 rashers of bacon and has a higher risk than red meat. This hack had grouped sausages together as processed meat rather than as red meat.
One aspect of the study was that there was a theoretical risk from nitrites which are used in cures for preserving meats such as bacon or salami. Again, this was a theoretical risk taken from studies of lab animals and there has never been a real life correlation. As we make both sausages and charcuterie, we know our ingredients very well. There are no nitrites in fresh sausages which goes for the vast majority of sausages sold in the UK.
So where did the equivalence of sausages to bacon come in and when did they get grouped into “processed meats”. Most sausages contain only about 5 ingredients; meat, rusk/crumb, water, flavour and the skin. In all quality sausages these ingredients will be natural. The flavours will be real such as pieces of apple or sage. This is not processed meat just in the same way that a good burger is not processed.
Most of us know the risks of red meat consumption, but it’s useful if journalists write with accuracy on the science. The research paper is available free and the findings do not group sausages into processed meat except for one study. In this paper the researchers put ham and sausages together as a single meat group, but only covered 222 patients. The overall findings of the metastudy is that an increase in consumption by 50g per day increase the risk factor for processed meats and 120g per day for red meat.
So why Lady Justice above? The sword for justice, the blindfold for objectivity and the scales of evidence. In this case someone failed to do justice of the evidence and produced twaddle which was not objective. This means that a proportion of the UK population will now see sausages as a higher risk because of poor journalism in their preferred daily paper.