One of the 10 universal guidelines for healthy nutrition in a report of the World Cancer Research Fund released at the end of 2007 is to "limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat", as a result of the "convincing evidence" for an association with an increased risk of colorectal cancer development. In the present paper, the scientific evidence for the association between processed meats intake and colorectal cancer development is explored and the most probable hypothesis on the mechanism underlying this relationship formulated. It seems that the present state of knowledge is not well understood but relates to a combination of haem iron, oxidative stress, formation of N-nitroso compounds and related residues in the digestive tract as the causal factors. Although criticisms of the inaccurate definition of processed meats and the insufficient accounting for the large variability in composition of meat products have been expressed, it is clear that the report urges proper action by the meat and nutrition research community and the meat industry. Research items that in our view should be addressed are discussed. They include: (1) evaluating the health risks associated with processed meats intake within the context of the supply of beneficial nutrients and other nutrition associated health risks; (2) definition of the role of nitrites and nitrates in meat processing; (3) investigating the role of red and processed meats on the endogenous formation of N-nitroso compounds in the digestive tract; and (4) developing improved processed meats using new ingredients.