Hand Holding Hot Dog in Napkin --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The U.S. Department of Agriculture should stop distributing carcinogenic hot dogs and other processed meats to children through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, says a Physicians Committee petition filed with USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack. The petition is based on a recent World Health Organization report that finds processed meats are “carcinogenic to humans.”

The Physicians Committee’s petition calls on USDA to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy, and reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The petition asks USDA to encourage schools that offer processed meats to include alternatives to these products in menus.

The WHO report, published in Lancet Oncology, is based on research from more than 800 studies looking at the cancer-causing properties of processed meats. The authors highlighted a meta-analysis that found each 50 gram portion of processed meat—approximately the size of a typical hot dog—eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

The Physicians Committee’s USDA petition is also based on findings from the American Institute for Cancer Research, the World Cancer Research Fund, and the National Institutes of Health.

In 2009, the Physicians Committee, through its subsidiary the Cancer Project, petitioned USDA to prohibit the distribution of processed meat through the National School Lunch Program due to the increased risk of cancer that results from consuming processed meat. USDA denied the petition 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 “[s]hould expert consensus develop.”

Despite the scientific consensus about the cancer, diabetes, and heart disease risks associated with processed meats, they are still widely consumed in the United States, especially by children. A survey conducted this year by the Physicians Committee found that the magazine of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service workers, continues to promote pepperoni pizza, corn dogs, and other processed meats.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women.

Visit DropTheDog.org to learn more about the dangers of processed meats and ask USDA to ban them from school lunches.