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The Cancer Project Launches Major Processed Meat Campaign

girl with school lunchAs Americans barbecue their way through summer, PCRM affiliate The Cancer Project is launching a major campaign to educate the public about the cancer risk found in hot dogs and other processed meats. The campaign includes a provocative new national TV commercial, a survey of processed meat found in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, and a grassroots effort to reform federal food policy.

The Cancer Project’s campaign is based on a comprehensive report released late last year by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund. After reviewing all existing data on nutrition and cancer risk, researchers concluded that processed meat increases one’s risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent for every 50 grams consumed daily. (A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog.) The landmark report clearly states that no amount of processed meat is considered safe to eat.

Each year, 160,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. About half of all cases are already incurable when found. Approximately 50,000 Americans are expected to die of the disease this year.

Protect Our Kids videoIn July, The Cancer Project debuted a new 30-second television ad based on the report. “Protect Our Kids” features three children at an elementary school who describe their lives from the perspective of adults with cancer. The ad intersperses their stories with shots of hot dogs, deli meats, and other unhealthy foods so often found on school lunch lines.

The ad first ran in Austin, Texas, where PCRM and Cancer Project members testified at a “listening session” held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to gather public input on how the government might improve child nutrition programs.

The Child Nutrition Act, which determines what foods are served in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, is up for reauthorization next year. The USDA is holding these listening sessions around the country. Cancer Project and PCRM representatives are asking for various improvements to the program, including more vegetarian foods, equal reimbursement for nondairy beverages as for cow’s milk, and a removal of processed meats from the list of commodities available to schools.

The ad sparked a spate of news coverage in Austin, including two TV pieces, a story on the city’s largest talk radio show, and a positive piece by the Austin American-Statesman.

Two weeks later, the commercial made its debut on national TV, airing on CNN in honor of Tony Snow, the political commentator and former White House press secretary who died of colon cancer on July 12. CNN Headline News and CNN American Morning both covered the commercial, and The Washington Post covered the processed meat report.

The ad next ran in Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia—home to five school districts with disproportionately high amounts of processed meats. The Cancer Project chose these cities after conducting an analysis of the prevalence of processed meats in school meals around the country this spring. Cancer Project nutritionists analyzed lunch and breakfast menus at 28 large school districts in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

While the survey—released in late July—shows that considerable variation exists in different districts, it clearly reveals that many school menus are packed with processed meats. In fact, 15 of the 28 districts received a failing grade.

For example, 60 percent of all elementary school breakfasts, 80 percent of all middle school breakfasts, and 80 percent of all high school breakfasts in the Los Angeles Unified School District contain processed meats. In Chicago, 30 percent of the regular lunches served to high school students include processed meats, and 58 percent of Chicago’s cold lunches contained processed meats. Only two school districts—Denver and San Francisco—received a “satisfactory” grade.

If you are a parent, teacher, student, or concerned citizen who wants to see processed meats removed from your local school, please get involved in our campaign by visiting our website.


PCRM Online, August 2008

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