Koreans shouldn’t fear meat and cancer: gov’t

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Koreans shouldn’t fear meat and cancer: gov’t

Koreans don’t eat enough processed meat to risk getting cancer, the government said on Monday.

According to the “National Health and Nutrition Survey,” an annual survey of 10,000 Koreans’ eating habits, Koreans consume much less processed meat in their daily diet than the 50 grams (1.76 ounces) the World Health Organization said would increase the possibility of colorectal cancer by 18 percent in a report last week.

“An analysis of the survey shows our people consume an average of 6 grams of processed meat every day, which is not that worrisome,” said a statement from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

Sales of both processed meat and red meat, which the WHO said posed a lesser risk of cancer, fell sharply in Korea after news of the report spread.

As for sodium nitrite, an ingredient added to processed meat to preserve and maintain their color that is considered the prime cancer risk, the Food Ministry said Koreans only consume about 11.5 percent of the level the WHO recommends as acceptable daily intake.

In terms of red meat, which the WHO says could “probably” raise the risk of cancer, the average amount consumed by Koreans per day is 67.5 grams, which the Food Ministry says is not high. The WHO’s report said the risk of cancer rises 17 percent when a person consumes 100 grams of red meat every day for his or her entire life.

Korean consumption of red meat is lower than that of people in some countries, the ministry said, citing data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer under the WHO. Koreans’ average consumption at 67.5 grams is similar to the 70 grams consumed by the British and the 50 to 100 grams consumed by Australians.

Official data shows Korean consumption of red meat rose from 62.2 grams per person on average in 2010 to 64.6 grams in 2013. For processed meat, it rose from 5.9 grams to 7.2 grams during the same period.

“We don’t have an officially recommended level for consumption of meat,” a Food Ministry official said by phone. “As the WHO has not released a full report on that yet, we will set detailed guidelines after receiving the full report.”

Immediately after the WHO report was released, sales of processed meat dropped at an alarming rate, some as much as 70 percent.

On Friday, the Korea Meat Industries Association tried to ease public fears over processed meat, saying that the purpose of the WHO report was to propose appropriate consumption levels of processed meat. It added that it regretted the international health institute’s careless claims on the issue.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [kim.heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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