“A petition to ban processed meats from the school lunch program is as extreme as the pro-vegan, animal rights group behind it,” said American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation President Randy Huffman, Ph.D.

According to Huffman, the petition was submitted to USDA by a group calling itself “The Cancer Project.” The group is run by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a radical organization that has only a tiny percentage of doctors in its ranks. Their tactics have been sharply criticized by many in the mainstream medical community.

Ronald Kleinman, M.D., head of the pediatric gastrointestinal unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and former head of the American Academy of Pediatrics Nutrition Committee, has called the group’s tactics “outrageous.”

“There is no established relationship between the normal consumption of processed foods and the risk of colon cancer,” he said. Kleinman has also criticized the TV commercial that is part of this larger campaign. The ad depicts child actors in a school setting saying they have colon cancer. The ads suggest that the disease was caused by processed meats consumed at school. “The video is exploiting children in the worst possible way. It's appalling to see a child used to advance a political agenda," Kleinman told one media outlet.

AMIF’s Huffman noted that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and groups like the American Dietetic Association have affirmed that processed meats do play a role in a healthy, balanced diet, providing protein and essential vitamins and minerals.

“Singling out a single food category like processed meats and suggesting that it causes cancer is irresponsible and unscientific. If only cancer prevention were that easy, we would have no need for the thousands of researchers studying its very complex causes and potential prevention strategies,” Huffman said. “Clearly, PCRM is engaging in a selective use of the science, citing some findings, when many others have shown no relationship between processed meat and cancer and have affirmed the value of a balance diet.”

Huffman said the largest study ever done on red and processed meat and cancer involved 725,000 people and found no relationship between the two. In addition, the World Cancer Research Fund Report that The Cancer Project cites in is petition has been sharply critiqued by many, including several researchers with the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Just this month, the researchers wrote in The Annals of Oncology, “In view of the fragile grounds on which the conclusions of WCRF report on diet and cancer are based on, the information to the media should have been more cautious.”

Huffman noted that while PCRM and the Cancer Project frequently reference nitrite and nitrate as carcinogenic, the federal National Toxicology Program has concluded quite the opposite following a multi-year study in 2000. As a result of these important findings, nitrite has been excluded from the U.S. master list of carcinogens. Likewise, National Institutes of Health researchers are finding not just nitrite’s safety, but its benefits. They are studying the infusion of sodium nitrite as a potent treatment for sickle cell anemia, heart attacks, brain aneurysms, even an illness that suffocates babies. (Source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-09-05-hot-dog-drug_x.htm )

“Less than five percent of nitrite intake comes from cured meats. The vast majority come from our own saliva and from vegetables like spinach, beets, celery and lettuce -- the very foods that experts say prevent cancer,” Huffman said. “Consumers needn’t worry about nitrite because leading experts in the medical community certainly don’t. They should consume processed meats along with their vegetables as part of a healthy, balanced diet.”