Germany’s Wurst Nightmare: The WHO Report

By Shirin Yassen

Sausages are to Germans like pasta is to Italians. So the World Health Organizations warning this October that processed meat may cause cancer was tough to swallow for the Germans.

Sausage is ground meat, herbs and vegetables stuffed into a skin, and it has been part of the German diet for centuries. Germans make at least 40 different types of sausage, and of the 31 types listed in the U.S. National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s online sausage glossary, 11 are from Germany.

Catalan_Hot_Dog_Stand_FrankfurtFrankfurt even lent its name to a sausage, yet now German citizens have learned that frankfurters may cause cancer. But the Germans’ craving for their hot dogs is not likely to stop.

Germany’s newspapers released hundreds of articles when the processed meat announcement appeared, prompting the WHO, the U.N. health organization, to issue a statement clarifying that while it was not calling for people to stop eating sausages altogether, it did recommend that consumers reduce their consumption of processed meat.

WHO said it had found sufficient evidence “that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” WHO’s findings were based on 800 studies carried out around the world.

German and Austrian food ministers criticized WHO’s report on the health risk of processed meat. “No one should be afraid to eat a bratwurst,” said Christian Schmidt, the German food and agriculture minister. “What counts is the quantity, too much of something is always bad for the health,” he explained in a statement, drawing a comparison between sausages and sunshine.

While government officials were upset, Germany’s wurst lovers were even more annoyed and angry by the report. “It’s total nonsense,” a woman selling sausages to a line of customers in Frankfurt told the Wall Street Journal. “If it is true, every German would have already died of wurst,” she added.

When it comes to sausage, there’s no place like Germany to eat it. At many German festivals the main food that is served is sausage, and the Germans have been serving wurst for hundreds of years. And in Duetschland, people take wurst seriously.


It’s even part of the language, as when someone says: “All things comes to an end, only the sausage has two.” When they want to express indifference, Germans say “It’s all sausage to me.”

Germans eat more processed meat than any other people. Reuters reported that an average German consumes 17.2 kilos of the stuff each year, with each region specializing in its own particular version of the national varieties. Bratwurst, for example, made from pork in a natural skin and grilled or fried, has over 50 varieties in Germany, differing in size and seasonings, as well as texture.

In 2009, Berlin opened a sausage museum dedicated to its now maligned staple and the city’s favorite snack. It is a paradise for sausage lovers and a magnet for tourists. Frankfurt holds a festival every year, featuring a competition for the best frankfurter, a six-day event that draws up to 500 visitors a day. Indeed, Germany has another two museums also devoted to its sausages.

WHO’s warnings may not prevent sausage lovers from indulging their appetites. Oktoberfest may be over, but other festivals are scheduled in Germany for November. Wurst-eating is a year-round German occupation, and people continue to eat it. I guess WHO’s report is “all sausage” to them.

Photograph No. 1 from Wikimedia Commons

Photograph No. 2 by Tednmiki, courtesy of Wkimedia Commons

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1 Response to Germany’s Wurst Nightmare: The WHO Report

  1. Cameran Clayton says:

    This story was truly a pleasure to read, Shirin. You did such a nice job interjecting your wit and personality into this piece. Great work!

    The one point of analysis that seems missing from this larger debate about processed meat and the WHO study has to do with the actual processing itself. Bacon and Bratwurst are both considered “processed” meats and are lumped together accordingly. But, there are many ways to “process” meat. It is actually the nitrates and chemical preservatives that often go into processed meats like bacon and hotdogs that cause cancer. Not all processed meats are loaded with chemicals (some use salt to preserve). This is why the woman was like, “wait a minute, Germans have lived off of Bratwurst for centuries and we don’t have a cancer epidemic.” That’s because, the meat was fresh and natural–despite its being “processed.”

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