The class-action consumer fraud lawsuit was filed today in Superior Court in Essex County seeking to compel five companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. The labels would read "Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer."
The New Jersey residents are suing five hot dog producers - Nathan's Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, Con Agra Foods, and Marathon Enterprises - for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the danger of colorectal cancer.
Every year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer; about 50,000 people die of the disease.
The nonprofit Cancer Project filed the lawsuit on behalf of John O'Donnell, Ruthann Hilland, and Michele DeScisciolo, who bought hot dogs made by the companies without being made aware that processed meat products are a cause of colorectal cancer.
"Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer," says Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Cancer Project. "Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information."
Basefall fans at Boston's Fenway Park enjoy two of the 21.7 million hot dogs that will be consumed before the 2009 baseball season is over. (Photo by Andy Clark)
Based in Washington, DC, the Cancer Project is a collaborative effort of physicians, researchers, and nutritionists to educate the public about the benefits of a healthy diet for cancer prevention and survival.
An affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Cancer Project recommends, "Research has shown that people who eat a diet free of animal products, high in plant foods, and low in fat have a much lower risk of developing cancer."
The legal action filed today cites two scientific studies linking hot dogs and similar processed meats to colon cancer.
A 2007 report from the American Institute for Cancer Research, based on 58 scientific studies, shows that one 50-gram (1.7 ounce) serving of processed meat - about the amount in one hot dog - consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent.
In this report, "Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective," the AICR and its international affiliate, the World Cancer Research Fund-UK, recommend limiting consumption of red meat to 18 ounces per week, and avoiding processed meat.
This is just one of the 10 AICR recommendations for cancer prevention. http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=dc_home_guides
"AICR does not take a position on the need for warning labels on hot dogs," the research organization said today, adding that "AICR is not associated with the Cancer Project, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine or any other advocacy organization."
The other scientific study cited in the lawsuit was published in March 2009 by the National Cancer Institute. Based on questionnaires filled out over 10 years by more than half a million people, NCI researchers found that people who eat more red meat and processed meats appear to have a "modestly increased risk of death" from all causes and also from cancer and heart disease.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition, an independent nonprofit based in Chicago, says the cancer-causing substances in hot dogs are the nitrites which are used as preservatives, primarily to combat botulism.
"During the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds," says the coalition, which is headed by Dr. Sam Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine with the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. "It is also suspected that nitrites can combine with amines in the human stomach to form N-nitroso compounds. These compounds are known carcinogens and have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain."
The lawsuit immediately drew fire from critics. David Martosko, research director for the DC-based nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom called the legal action part of a "desperate ploy to scare Americans into veganism."
"Legitimate experts are going to come in and tell the judge that there's no proven link between hot dogs and cancer," Martosko said. "This is going to be a giant waste of the court's time and taxpayers' money."
Coincidentally, the lawsuit was filed on the same day that the American Meat Institute held its annual Hot Dog Lunch on Capitol Hill. Congressional staffers, lawmakers, lobbyists, meat industry representatives and members of the media ate hot dogs together in the Rayburn House Office Building Courtyard.
The Annual Hot Dog Lunch was hosted by Congressmen Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, and Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican.
"There are few icons more recognized in U.S. culture than the hot dog," said J. Patrick Boyle, who heads the American Meat Institute, an industry association. "Year after year, this social event on Capitol Hill, which is one of the most popular of the summer, is a testament to the continuing national – and bipartisan – popularity of hot dogs."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.