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  1. News Release

  2. Mar 2, 2023

Physicians Group Asks North Carolina School District to Decommission “Pig Rig” Smoker

Evidence Shows Links Between the Consumption of Processed Meat and Many Types of Illnesses and Diseases

Burke County Public Schools in Morganton debuted the smoker, dubbed the “Pig Rig” by students, on Feb. 7, 2023. 

In a letter to Superintendent Mike Swan, Assistant Superintendent Karen Auton, and Director of Food Services and Child Nutrition Daniel Wall, Physicians Committee registered dietitian Stephanie McBurnett shared the clear evidence on processed meat. The World Health Organization has classified it as a group 1 carcinogen. 

“Therefore,” she wrote, of the mobile grill, “the Physicians Committee, which has 17,000 doctor members, requests that you decommission the device.”

A multitude of evidence confirms the link between the consumption of processed meat and illness and disease. 

The American Cancer Society recommends limiting or avoiding processed meat because, when consumed even in small amounts, it increases the risk of colon and other cancers.

In an expert report published in The Lancet Oncology, scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer examined more than 800 studies on the relationship between red and processed meats and cancer. The meta-analysis found a dose-response, statistically significant relationship between processed meat and colorectal cancer. For every 50 grams consumed per day, cancer risk increased by 18%. This led the working group to conclude that processed meats are carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer. 

Furthermore, evidence shows a strong relationship between processed meat and heart disease. Just 150 grams a week of processed meat is linked with a 46% increased risk of heart disease and a 51% increased risk of death. 

How does smoking or grilling meat increase its carcinogenicity? The National Cancer Institute says when cooking meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, over high heat, especially an open flame, exposure to two carcinogens can occur: heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Studies show both cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer. 

Heterocyclic amines develop in meat when amino acids and creatine (muscle proteins) react to high heat. The amount produced increases in relation to the length of time meat is exposed to the heat. Exposure to heterocyclic amines is associated with certain cancers, such as colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are chemicals produced as fat burns in a flame and can attach to meat cooking over an open fire. In children, exposure is associated with higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, anxious depressed behavior, and attention disorders

Additionally, studies show that dietary exposure to cured or smoked meat and fish may be associated with childhood leukemia due to compounds like nitrites and nitrosamines.

Healthy eating habits, McBurnett said, are often established and perpetuated in school, the place where some children receive most of their daily meals.

“It is of utmost importance,” she wrote to district officials, “that school systems maintain a safe environment for students and promote health and wellness. By offering smoked meat, Burke County Public Schools should be concerned about not only the harmful effects of smoke-related chemicals being released into the air, but also those being placed on students’ plates.”

Media Contact

Kim Kilbride



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.

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