The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the removal of processed meats from school lunches.
In its petition filed Oct. 27, PCRM asked USDA to stop offering processed meats for purchase, subsidy and reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast Program. The petition also asked USDA to encourage schools that offer processed meats to include alternatives to these products in menus.
PCRM said its petition, filed with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is based in part on an Oct. 26 World Health Organization (WHO) scientific report that found processed meats such as hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon, sausage and deli meats to be “carcinogenic to humans.”
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has, however, said that rather its review confirms the recommendation in WHO’s 2002 "Diet, Nutrition & the Prevention of Chronic Diseases" report that advised people to moderate consumption of preserved meat to reduce the risk of cancer. The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, WHO said.
WHO has a standing group of experts who regularly evaluate the links between diet and disease. Early next year, this group will meet to begin looking at the public health implications of the latest science and the place of processed meat and red meat within the context of an overall healthy diet, WHO added.
The North American Meat Institute said PCRM is predictably seizing upon news about the WHO report as another tool to force meat off the plates of schoolchildren.
Notably, PCRM’s petition predated a clarifying statement from the WHO which said, in part, "The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats.” The statement seemed intent on clarifying that its review was not a risk assessment it was a hazard assessment. The distinction is nuanced, but important. Hazard assessments identify thinks that could ever, possibly, under some circumstance and at some level, cause a risk of cancer, said NAMI.
“IARC’s other hazard assessments have found sun and outdoor air to be Class I carcinogens. Based upon PCRM’s logic, we presume that in addition to their efforts to take away nutrient dense foods that kids enjoy and actually eat, they would like to see recess cancelled to protect the children,” said NAMI.
“We stand by nutrition benefits that meat – both fresh and processed - provide for growing children,” said NAMI, offering the following evidence from peer reviewed studies that show:
;o Meat is one of the best sources of the most absorbable form of iron, and iron deficiency in children can lead to significant health issues like anemia.
;o Animal products are the only natural sources of B12 and vegetarians and vegans must supplement with B12 due to their absence of B12 in their diets. Deficits in vitamin B12 (cobalamin) have negative consequences on the developing brain during infancy; and deficits of both vitamins are associated with a greater risk of depression during adulthood.
;o Meat is nutrient dense and contributes a wide array of nutrients like zinc, the B vitamins and complete protein with all the amino acids needed for health. And as one researcher wrote, “With elimination of meat and increased intake of phytate-containing legumes and whole grains, the absorption of both iron and zinc is lower with vegetarian than with non-vegetarian, diets.”
;o Nutrient dense foods like meat in balanced diets improve school performance, too.
“If PCRM members don’t want their children to eat fresh and processed meat at school, then their children can enjoy the vegetarian options that are always available, but don’t take away a food option that even WHO says can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet,” NAMI said.