WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a lawsuit on Sept. 22, 2020, against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to respond to a petition that asks the agency to require cheese manufacturers to add the following warning label on all dairy cheese products: “Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.”
The petition, which was filed on Oct. 3, 2019, cites several studies linking consumption of cheese and other dairy products to increased risk of breast cancer.
A 2017 study funded by the National Cancer Institute that compared the diets of women diagnosed with breast cancer to those without breast cancer found that those who consumed the most American, cheddar, and cream cheeses had a 53% higher risk for breast cancer. The authors say that components in dairy such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and other growth hormones may be among the reasons for the increased risk for cancer.
The Life After Cancer Epidemiology study found that, among women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, those consuming one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (e.g., cheese, ice cream, whole milk) daily had a 49% higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming less than one-half serving daily.
“To ensure that Americans understand the potential significant risks, and resulting long-term costs, of consuming dairy cheese products, the FDA should ensure that the notice above is prominently placed on product packaging and labeling for all dairy cheese products,” says the petition.
The lawsuit also includes claims against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the FDA, for failing to respond to two Freedom of Information Act appeals for records relating to conflicts of interest and financial disclosures for members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) selected the members of the 2015 DGAC. DGAC members are often nominated by the dairy, egg, and meat industries, but their relationships are not always transparent.
The product of the DGAC’s work was a scientific report that HHS and USDA used to develop the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (The 2020 DGAC recently released its report that will be used to develop the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.)
The lawsuit says, “The 2015 Dietary Guidelines state that ‘[b]reast cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States’ and acknowledge evidence ‘that healthy eating patterns also are associated with a reduced risk of . . . postmenopausal breast cancers[.]’ … Yet the document’s ‘Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern’ recommends consuming three cups of dairy per day, which can increase breast cancer risk.”
A recent study found that women who consumed 2-3 cups of cow’s milk per day had an 80% increased chance of breast cancer. The lead author of the paper said that possible reasons for these associations between breast cancer and dairy milk may be the sex hormone content of dairy milk, as the cows are of course lactating, and often about 75% of the dairy herd is pregnant. The study found that replacing dairy milk with soy milk was associated with a 32% reduced risk of breast cancer.
“The 2015 Dietary Guidelines’ Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern—which recommends 3 cups of dairy daily, including cheese—could be putting Americans at risk for breast cancer,” says Susan Levin, MS, RD. “Americans have the right to know if this potentially deadly recommendation was influenced by Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members profiting from the dairy industry.”
The Physicians Committee’s Let’s Beat Breast Cancer campaign offers a simple four-pronged approach to fighting breast cancer: Choose plant-based foods, exercise regularly, limit alcohol, and maintain a healthy weight. LetsBeatBreastCancer.org, includes the science behind the four steps, resources, and a pledge that visitors can take to follow the four steps—and get a free e-cookbook.
We're Suing the FDA: Cheese and Breast Cancer
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.