SACRAMENTO—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a nonprofit with more than 25,000 members in California—filed a lawsuit against the State of California on March 11 for failing to include cancer-causing processed meat—such as hot dogs, bacon, and deli meat—on the state’s list of substances known to cause cancer, as required by Proposition 65.

The lawsuit argues that California has neglected to follow a state law requiring the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to include on its carcinogen list “[s]ubstances listed as human or animal carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).”

In 2015, after 22 experts from 10 countries assessed more than 800 epidemiological studies, the IARC classified consumption of processed meat as “‘carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1) on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.” The experts highlighted a meta-analysis that concluded that each 50-gram portion of processed meat (about one hot dog) eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Research shows that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily also increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and overall cancer mortality.

Throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019, the Physicians Committee urged the OEHHA to follow the law and list processed meat as a cancer-causing substance. In February 2018, the Physicians Committee backed a resolution introduced in the California State Legislature by then-Sen. Ricardo Lara urging the OEHHA to add processed meat to Proposition 65. In September 2019, the OEHHA told the Physicians Committee that the agency would make a determination regarding processed meat by January 2020 but has failed to do so.

“It’s a clear-cut case. California has been violating the law for nearly five years by failing to add processed meat to the Proposition 65 list,” says Mark Kennedy, Esq., vice president of legal affairs for the Physicians Committee. “It’s time for the OEHHA to stop dragging its feet.”

Plaintiffs also include Physicians Committee members Donald D. Forrester, MD, a family medicine physician in Sacramento, Calif., and Anna Herby, RD, CDE, who resides in Mendocino County. Ms. Herby works with patients to help prevent and reverse chronic diseases through nutrition.

“California must commit to making sure that every resident knows that processed meat increases cancer risk, and Proposition 65 is the place to make that clear,” says Anna Herby, RD, CDE. “A hospital patient being treated for cancer shouldn’t be learning for the first time that hot dogs are a health hazard.”

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in California. The American Cancer Society estimates that California will have 15,530 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2020 and 5,480 deaths from the disease.

“Tens of thousands of Californians are diagnosed or die from colorectal cancer every year,” says Donald D. Forrester, MD. “Adding processed meat to Proposition 65 would provide first-line defense against this deadly disease.”

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