A nine-page petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asks the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to begin requiring colorectal cancer warning labels on certain meat and poultry products.

The petition claims “scientific research has led to the conclusion that processed meat and poultry increases the risk of colorectal cancer.” The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), said CSPI has earned the nickname “the food police” for such “scare tactics.”

baconhotdogsalami_406x250Barry Carpenter, NAMI’s president and CEO, said in a news release that the international body that found processed meat “carcinogenic to humans” did so on the basis of voting, which wasn’t unanimous and was not sound science.

That body, the World Health Organization unit known as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), opted to put processed meat on its cancer list on in October 2015. The organization gets a lot of criticism for its methods, including not making any distinction about quantities.

Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI president, and David Plunkett, senior staff attorney, signed the petition. They want USDA to require all meat and poultry products that “are preserved by smoking, curing, salting, and/or the addition of chemical preservatives” to bear the warning label.

The CSPI suggests the label should state: “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.” The group also wants a similar warning on poultry products.


The petition acknowledges processed meats have been around “since antiquity.” It names bacon, hot dogs, ham, sausages and deli and luncheon meats as examples of the products it wants slapped with the warning.

In addition to the IARC labeling processed meat as cancer-causing, CSPI cites the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) advice, which is to “minimize consumption” of processed meats. And it cites an American Institute for Cancer Research (AIRC) survey that found only one in three Americans linked meat consumption to cancer.

“IARC, ACS, and the World Cancer Research Fund all cite research that found about an 18 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily,” according to the CSPI’s news release on its petition.

“A typical serving of ham, sausage, bologna, or hot dog weighs about 55 grams, or about two ounces.”

In the meat industry response, Carpenter said many more studies have not found a link between meat consumption and colon cancer. He also said that “curiously, but not surprisingly,” researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have not published the largest study ever done on red and processed meat and colon cancer even though it was presented to a conference in 2004.

He says several of those researchers have signed on the CSPI petition.

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