The Cancer Project, an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said it is acting on behalf of three New Jersey residents and has filed a class-action consumer fraud lawsuit, arguing that hotdogs should carry the following label: “Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer" on the back of recent studies that have linked the consumption of processed meat with higher cancer risk.
The five companies being sued at the Essex County Superior Court are Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, Con Agra Foods, and Marathon Enterprises.
President of the Cancer Project Neal Barnard said: "Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer. Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information."
But the American Meat Institute (AMI) has rejected the move as a “nuisance”.
"We hope the court will move quickly to review the science affirming the safety of hot dogs and processed meats and dismiss this lawsuit, recognizing it for the nuisance that it is," said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. "Meat products are regulated and inspected by USDA and bear the federal government's seal of inspection, showing they are wholesome and nutritious.”
Studies that have linked processed meat with cancer risk have often focused on nitrates and nitrites which are used as preservatives. However, these also occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, and recent studies have even linked the much maligned additives to improved cardiovascular health.
However, the Cancer Project cited a report from the American Institute for Cancer Research which claimed that a daily 50-gram serving of processed meat – about the amount in one hot dog – consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by an average of 21 percent.
“The nitrites often used as a preservative can produce compounds that are suspected carcinogens. The bottom line is that science has tied processed meat consumption to increased cancer risk. That’s why hot dogs should be avoided,” the organization said.
However, other scientific reviews, including one from Harvard University in 2004 that examined 14 previous studies, have not found the same link.
Commenting on his own study into the additives, Dr Nathan Bryan, an expert on nitrates and nitrites from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said: “The public perception is that nitrites and nitrates are carcinogens but they are not. Many studies implicating nitrite and nitrate in cancer are based on very weak epidemiological data. If nitrite and nitrate were harmful to us, then we would not be advised to eat green leafy vegetables or swallow our own saliva, which is enriched in nitrate."