Debate over warning labels on processed meats

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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WASHINGTON – On Dec. 1, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called for the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to require processed meat and poultry products such as hot dogs, bacon, ham, etc., to bear warning labels informing consumers that eating such foods increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) responded stating that seeking warning labels on safe USDA inspected food is the latest example of scare tactics used by the “food police.”

CSPI cites the findings of 2015 research from the International Agency for Research (IARC) that concluded processed meat is “carcinogenic to humans.”

“Consumers deserve these warning labels to help them make informed choices about the foods they eat,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a statement.  “Consumers who want to reduce their cancer risk may avoid processed meats or eat them much less often; other people may simply ignore the label.  But without question, USDA should give people that choice.”

The warning CSPI wants on processed meat would read, “USDA WARNING:  Frequent consumption of processed meat products may increase your risk of developing cancer of the colon and rectum. To protect your health, limit consumption of such products.”

NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter claims the petition ignores numerous studies that show no correlation between meat and cancer and evidence shows cancer is a complex disease not caused by a single food source.

“The World Health Organization’s (WHO) IARC on Cancer vote that CSPI cited as evidence – a vote that was not unanimous – is taken badly out of context,” Carpenter said. “After the vote, the WHO worked to reassure consumers saying there were ‘shortcomings’ with IARC’s classifications which allowed the results to be ‘misinterpreted.’”

Carpenter went on to say that with a few exceptions, Americans consume the recommended amount of meat and poultry and the 2015 Dietary Guideline confirms that moderate consumption of processed meats fit into a healthy eating pattern as long as it’s within the limits for sodium, calories, calories from saturated fats and added sugars. 

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