After the World Health Organization declared this week processed meats increase the risk of cancer, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has filed a petition with USDA to stop the distribution of hot dogs and other processed meats to children through the National School Lunch Program.
“The National School Lunch Program should help create carcinogen-free cafeterias,” said Dr. Susan Levin, director of the Physicians Committee director of nutrition education. “Keeping hot dogs, pepperoni, and other USDA processed meat commodities off school lunch trays is a step in the right direction.”
The Physicians Committee—a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that promotes vegetarian and vegan diets—calls on USDA to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy, and reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast Program. The petition asks USDA to encourage schools that offer processed meats to include alternatives to these products in menus.
This isn’t the first time the committee has petitioned USDA seeking this change. In 2009, USDA denied the committee’s petition to ban processed meats due to a purported lack of “consensus documents of the U.S. Government or of the leading world bodies with cancer expertise” but said that it would reconsider the request “should expert consensus develop.”
The North American Meat Institute said the committee is simply seizing the opportunity as another way to get meat off consumers’ plates and stands by the nutritional benefits meat provides for growing children.
Notably, NAMI said the committee’s petition predated a clarifying statement from the WHO which said, in part, “The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats.”
“If PCRM members don’t want their children to eat fresh and processed meat at school, then their children can enjoy the vegetarian options that are always available, but don’t take away a food option that even WHO says can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet,” the institute said.