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Processed meat should come with warning labels, lawsuit urges Special

By David Silverberg     Jul 25, 2009 in Food
Imagine seeing this label on hot dogs: "Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer." That's the label a vegan advocacy group wants to slap on processed meat products in New Jersey.
Much like how warning labels crowd space on cigarette packs, processed meat products in North America should also warn consumers about its harmful effects, says Dan Kinburn, the general counsel for the Cancer Project, which is filing a lawsuit on behalf of three plaintiffs in New Jersey.
The lawsuit is asking the Essex County Superior Court to force companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on processed meat packages sold in New Jersey. The three plaintiffs, the Cancer Project alleges, "purchased hot dogs made by the companies without being made aware that processed meat products are a cause of colorectal cancer."
This nonprofit group, known to lobby for meat-free diets and animal activism, uses data from The American Institute for Cancer Research to support its lawsuit. The AICR found that "every 1.7 ounces of red meat consumed per day increases cancer risk by 15 percent."
Also, Harvard University concluded: "The people who ate the most red meat (about 5 ounces a day or more) were about a third more likely to develop colon cancer than those who ate the least red meat (less than an ounce a day on average)."
The lawsuit is a direct attack against some of the most popular meat companies, such as Kraft, Hebrew National, ConAgra Foods, Nathan's Famous Inc. and Sara Lee. While the lawsuit only applies to New Jersey, Kinburn thinks major food companies will need to overhaul its entire product line if it had to slap packages with special warning labels.
The American Meat Institute, a lobby group for the meat industry, responded in a press release, saying, "We hope the court will move quickly to review the science affirming the safety of hot dogs and processed meats and dismiss this lawsuit, recognizing it for the nuisance that it is." It went on to point out that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines affirm that processed meat and poultry products - including hot dogs -- can be a healthy part of a balanced diet.
Attorney Dan Kinburn
Dan Kinburn is general counsel for The Cancer Project
Courtesy Cancer Project
Speaking about the lawsuit, Kinburn told from his Washington office, "it's David versus Goliath. These companies have all the wealth and power in the world, and their lawyers will drag this out for at least a couple years."
He went on to say that, at the very least, the lawsuit and the publicity it attracts will educate people on the dangers of eating processed meat. "We want people making informed decisions," he says.
The difficult aspect of this lawsuit will be identifying what exactly in meat can cause certain types of cancer. Chemicals such as nitrates have long been suspected a culprit to causing cancer, but the evidence isn't conclusive.
"Just like with tobacco, we know it causes cancer but we're not sure exactly what inside tobacco causes it," Kinburn says. But he maintains that the scientific consensus remains focused on the idea that consumption of processed red meat can increase the risk of colorectal and other forms of cancer.
The nonprofit behind the lawsuit deserves an introduction. The Cancer Project is a branch of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an association "that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research." True, but they have also been known to rally against animal testing and meat-heavy diets. Its president, Neal Barnard, has ties to PETA and other animal-activist groups.
On its website, you can find various press releases and news briefs on vegetarian diets and animal research.
Kinburn is hopeful the lawsuit will prove successful. "We have a decent shot at it," he believes. "We have science and law on our side."
More about Hot dogs, Processed meat, Cancer project, Lawsuit, Nitrates
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