Increased risk of colon and rectal cancer from frequent consumption of processed meats and poultry does not merit warning labels for those products, according to a USDA ruling.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recently denied a 3-year old petition favoring such processed meat and poultry warnings submitted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

“After careful consideration, FSIS has decided to deny the petition without prejudice. FSIS considers these products safe to consume and not misbranded for failure to display the warning labels sought in the petition. Further, the requested warning label could be misleading in that it would fail to provide information that consumers would need to place the asserted risk in the proper context.”

Roberta Wagner, an assistant administrator of the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development, announced the ruling in a letter to CSPI.

CSPI petitioned for the warning letter in December 2016. The request cited scientific studies linking increased consumption of processed meat with increased risk for certain types of cancer. CSPI claimed there is low awareness among Americans about the increased risk.

Colorectal cancer is preventable with early screening, according to the American Cancer Society. A polyp can take as many as 10 to 15 years to develop cancer. When detected early, polyps are removed before cancer develops.

“We also find that processed meat and poultry products as currently labeled are not misbranded for failing to warn consumers of alleged correlations between long-term consumption and increased risk of certain types of cancer,” Wagner wrote.

Wagner said because the petition was denied without prejudice, any revised petition submitted by CSPI would require additional information to support the request.

FSIS acknowledges it ” has the authority to require that product labels disclose material facts to prevent them from being misbranded. ”

“But this authority does not mandate that PSIS require every labeling statement or feature that some may consider material,” the letter says. “Specifically, the Agency is unlikely to find, that reports of human health risks associated with long-term consumption of products under our jurisdiction are material facts that must be disclosed on the label when several factors other than consumption of the product are also known to contribute to these risks.”

“It is difficult to include all of the facts necessary to place a warning in its proper contexts, such as the effect of different cooking methods, the level of exposure arising from different products, and individual risk factors like genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and diet, Wagner added. “Warning statements that omit this type of information have the potential to be misleading to consumers. Furthermore, this type of labeling may distract consumers from important information related to acute health risks, such as the presence of allergens and the need to cook and handle products safety.”

Meanwhile, screening to prevent colorectal cancer should begin around age 50.

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