Calls made to include cancer warning on processed meat

By Aaron McDonald

- Last updated on GMT

The USDA has been urged to require a label on processed meats warning on cancer risks
The USDA has been urged to require a label on processed meats warning on cancer risks

Related tags: Meat, Livestock, Packaging equipment & materials

Labels warning of cancer risks should appear on US processed meat and poultry products, according to The Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI).

The CSPI filed a regulatory petition last week with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling for the move, citing research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which showed that meat is “carcinogenic to humans”​.

According to the CSPI, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. In light of this, it has been suggested that the public minimise their intake of processed meats.

“Consumers deserve these warning labels to help them make informed choices about the foods they eat,”​ commented CSPI executive director Michael F Jacobson. “Consumers who want to reduce their cancer risk may avoid processed meats or eat them much less often; other people may simply ignore the label. But without question, USDA should give people that choice.”

The petition from CSPI claimed the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) had the authority to require such labels under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Similar powers are exercised to require special labelling for meats processed without nitrate and for meat that is mechanically tenderised.

Protect public health

CSPI said that the USDA was obligated to require the industry to display such information as it was in their interest to protect the public’s health.

The Center is requesting that all meat and poultry products preserved by smoking, curing, salting, and/or the addition of chemical preservations carry this message: ‘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’.

Nutrition and epidemiology experts supported the actions. In a letter to outgoing Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, they wrote: “People want clear and accurate information about potential health hazards in the foods they eat to help them make wise choices at the grocery store and restaurants.

Colorectal cancer

“Food that is associated with cancer risks is certainly a matter of great public concern. Research reviewed by IARC indicated that consuming 50 grams per day of processed meat is associated with an 18% increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. That level of risk is highly significant as it may have contributed to as many as 5,000 deaths from colorectal cancer in the United States since 2015.”

In June of this year, the US Preventative Services Task Force recommended that everyone between the ages of 50 and 75 be screened with colonoscopy, faecal occult blood tests, or other measures.

“We recognise that the chances of the Trump administration taking advantage of this opportunity to protect the public health are slim,”​ added Jacobson. “But at CSPI we’re used to taking the long view. We will continue pushing for regulatory measures that will protect the health of Democrats, Republicans, and all others.”

Related topics: Meat

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