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Study finds processed meats cause cancer

July 24, 2009

Chances are, you've had processed meats in the last few days. If it wasn't bacon for breakfast, maybe it was a deli sandwich at lunch. Maybe it was that Texas favorite smoked sausage, or hot dogs and hamburgers at a weekend cookout. It's kind of hard to avoid. But the The Cancer Project says we should do just that, and filed a lawsuit against 3 hot dog producers to get them to put a warning label on their products. The Cancer Project is a non-profit organization examining the role nutrition plays in cancer occurrence and prevention. In addition to the lawsuit, they've started an ad campaign urging people to completely avoid processed meats, with hot dogs being the main feature. Attorney Dan Kilburn is the lead attorney for the Washington-based organization. He said they're moving forward based on studies done by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research.

That's right. ELIMINATED entirely. While the words "processed meats" don't necessarily tempt the palate, the thought of giving up hot dogs, ham, pastrami, or sausage just might be too much. Kilburn says it's nitrites in the meat that are the concern, and increase the cancer risk. Mike Lansford is a partner at Waco Beef and Pork Processors, and is very familiar with the nitrites that the Cancer Project speaks of. He uses small amounts of them in his meat, feels they are safe, and has no qualms talking about it. He says people wouldn't generally want their meat without nitrites.

Waco Beef and Pork Processors sells meet commercially and to individuals. Workers are busy cutting pork chops, steaks, and getting sausage and bologna ready to smoke. Mike Lansford opens up a large apparatus smoking sausage at 160 degrees. It's pretty appetizing, and makes it hard to imagine giving up processed meats. Most of us aren't thinking about nitrites at the family picnic. Lansford, a former president of the Texas Association of Meat Processors thinks disregard is justified. Nitrites are found in water, and plenty of other foods besides hot dogs or sausage.

Waco Beef and Pork Processors use less than an ounce of nitrites per hundred pounds of meat, other companies use more. But Dan Kilburn points at research that says there's no safe level of nitrites. He says there's no level that any governing body says is non-carcinogenic. And beyond that, the way we cook the meat can make it worse.

Kilburn and The Cancer Project are fighting to get a warning label put on hot dogs, just as you'd see on tobacco products. While there are plenty of other products that feature nitrites, the correlation between cancer and human beings consuming processed meats in studies has been much higher.

So, just like they do with most food products, nearly all of which have had some sort of safety, health, or nutrition related warning at some point, consumers have a choice to make. You can't eliminate nitrite consumption. But should you eliminate meats that have more of them, and increased risk? Kilburn hopes labels remind you of that dilemma every time you go to the meat section of the grocery. Lansford thinks the product is safe, and can be enjoyed.

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