USA — Hot dogs with a warning sign against cancer?

Friday 24 July 2009

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All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The Cancer Project filed a suit in New Jersey for food safety. This group actually aims at a mention on hot dogs packages which says that they contribute to increase risks of cancer.

The nonprofit organization sued to compel the companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. The president of the organization, Neal Barnard, declared that : «Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer». A professor at the George Washington University medical school added : «Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information.»

Apparently, American scientists are quite divided on this issue. Loads of nutritionnists insist on the impact of food that is eaten with hot dogs. Moreover, Roger Clemens, a nutrition expert, claims that «If we were to evaluate each food for its naturally occurring toxins and eliminate that food, then our food plate would be empty».

The defendants, international firms like SaraLee or Kraft Foods, are set against such a measure. A Kraft spokesman declared that «These proposals are unfounded. Hot dogs have been enjoyed by consumers for more than 100 years».

Moreover many physicians wonder of the impact of such an implementation on the public. On different forums, many consumers declared this warning sign would not change the number of hot dogs they eat. Warning labels are not efficient, according to nutritionnists.

In the lawsuit, the Cancer Project cites the role of nitrites, preservatives used in cured and processed meats such as hot dogs, in the development of cancer-forming agents. During digestion, nitrites break down into nitrosamines and other N-nitroso compounds that are considered carcinogens.

An American Institute for Cancer Research report cited in the lawsuit notes that one 50-gram serving of processed meat — about the amount in one hot dog — consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer 21% on average. Colorectal cancer kills about 50,000 Americans annually.

The lawsuit acknowledges debate over how the consumption of some types of meats leads to greater cancer risk, but it argues that that doesn’t negate a need for warnings on hot dogs. «This situation is similar to the link between the smoking of tobacco products and lung cancer: While all the molecular events linking the smoking of tobacco to the development of lung cancer are not known, the link cannot be disputed», the lawsuit states. To be continued.

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