WHO report presents challenge for meat brands as media jump on cancer risk

Yesterday's announcement that there is a definite link between processed meat and cancer has proved a hot topic in the UK press, and that widespread publicity in turn presents a challenge for meat brands.

Sausages: WHO report turns up heat on meat producers (Credit: Sean via Flickr)
Sausages: WHO report turns up heat on meat producers (Credit: Sean via Flickr)

The report, released yesterday by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), places red and processed meats in the same category of cancer risk as tobacco and asbestos.

However, the IARC later explained in a Q&A that the list does not mean they are equally dangerous.

Cancer Research UK responded to the report in a blog. The charity said: "This isn't 'new’ news – the evidence has been building for decades." It went on to say: "A steak, bacon sandwich or sausage bap a few times a week probably isn’t much to worry about."

This is similar in tone to a statement from Public Health England – which it provided reactively as the news broke – that reads: "The findings from the IARC report are broadly in line with current government advice which is based on the possible link between consuming red and processed meat and colorectal cancer.

"On average, we should be eating no more than 70 grammes a day. This advice recognises the fact that red meat is also a good source of nutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12."

Despite these relatively muted messages, the media have jumped on the story, with today's Sun, The Guardian and The Times running it on their front pages, putting the spotlight on the meat industry.

Cat Jennings, London managing director of Golley Slater, gave five tips for firms facing questions:

  1. Take immediate action by proactively reacting to the story
  2. Put in place a proper task force to keep an eye on social media and online comment
  3. Take an active listening role from a media and online perspective to best access how the situation escalates
  4. Be transparent in the investigation progress by offering real-time updates on any findings
  5. Work with third party experts to collectively address the crisis.

Neither McDonald's nor Burger King responded when approached for comment by PRWeek.

In their response to the story, the North American Meat Institute's SVP of public affairs, Janet Riley, said there had been "a major overreach on the part of the WHO" and that there was in fact "no consensus" on the matter. Click to read the full PRWeek US story.

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