WASHINGTON – The non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) petitioned the US Dept. of Agriculture to ban hot dogs and other processed meats from the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. PCRM promotes a vegan diet, preventive medicine and alternatives to animal research.

The organization based its petition in part on the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report that classified hot dogs and other processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence,” while consumption of red meat was classified as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. In April, PCRM had erected a billboard urging fans of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to stop eating bacon. The team’s mascot is Chris P. Bacon.

PCRM urged USDA to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy and reimbursement under the feeding programs. The group also asked USDA to encourage schools to offer alternatives to processed meats.

“The National School Lunch Program should help create carcinogen-free cafeterias,” said Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition education. “Keeping hot dogs, pepperoni, and other USDA processed meat commodities off school lunch trays is a step in the right direction.”

Processing companies and industry groups quickly defended the meat industry. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it is unrealistic to isolate a single food as a cause of cancer because dietary patterns are further confounded by lifestyle and environmental factors.

“As a registered dietitian and mother, my advice hasn’t changed,” said Shalene McNeill, Ph.D., R.D., registered dietitian for the Beef Checkoff. “To improve all aspects of your health, eat a balanced diet, which includes lean meats like beef, maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and, please don’t smoke.”

Rick Williamson, manager of external communications for Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corporation, said the important nutrients in meat far outweigh any theoretical hazard.

“Few foods are as widely consumed across cultures and generations as red and processed meats. Meat is nutrient dense and contains high quality proteins, essential amino acids, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12,” he said.