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The Physicians Committee

NEWS RELEASE October 9, 2008

Doctors Seek to Ban Hot Dogs and Similar Meats from School Lunches; Federal Petition for Rulemaking Filed with USDA Just Before National School Lunch

Processed Meats Increase Cancer Risk and Should Not be Served in Schools, Says Petition for Enforcement Supported by Dr. Walter Willett

WASHINGTON—As the country prepares to mark National School Lunch Week, a national cancer education organization is seeking to push hot dogs out of school cafeterias.

In a petition for rulemaking being filed this morning, the Cancer Project seeks to compel the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop distributing hot dogs and other processed meats to the nation’s children through the National School Lunch Program because these products have been shown to increase the risk of cancer in adulthood.

The petition includes declarations of support from several prominent nutrition and cancer experts, including Walter Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “This would be a valuable first step toward encouraging the elimination of processed meat from the diet of all consumers,” Dr. Willett wrote in his declaration.

“Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Cancer Project. “With 58 research studies examining the links between processed meats and colorectal cancer, serving these products to children is no longer defensible. The federal government should be encouraging schools to serve healthful foods.”

The USDA petition is based on the findings of a landmark report released last year by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund. Based on a review of 58 scientific studies, the AICR report concluded that “processed meat is a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.” According to the report’s authors, the risk increases by 21 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. (A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog.)

The Cancer Project’s petition for rulemaking calls upon the USDA to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy, and reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast Program. The petition asks the USDA to encourage schools that offer processed meats to include alternatives to these products in their menus.

In addition to Dr. Willett, declarations of support for the Cancer Project petition have also been signed by cancer researcher Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., a professor in the departments of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and an associate professor in the department of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, and Lawrence Kushi, Sc.D., associate director for etiology and prevention research, division of research, Kaiser Permanente.

Despite the scientific consensus about the cancer risk associated with processed meats, they are still widely consumed in the United States, especially by children. A survey conducted this year by the Cancer Project found that some school cafeterias serve processed meats at the majority of meals. National School Lunch Week begins Oct. 13.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Media Contact:
Jeanne McVey
202-686-2210, ext. 316

Neal Barnard, M.D.
Neal Barnard, M.D.

Related Links:
Petition to the USDA for Enforcement and Rulemaking (PDF)

Processed Meats in Schools: Putting Children at Risk for Cancer (PDF)

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