Lawsuit Seeks Warning Labels for Hot Dogs

Dangers of processed meat cited in class-action suit

Many modern-day baseball stadiums prohibit smoking, but cancerous danger apparently still lurks around the corner: an anti-meat consumer group alleges in a class-action that hot dogs pose serious health risks and need to carry warning labels.

The lawsuit was filed by The Cancer Project in Essex County, New Jersey on Wednesday. Among the named defendants are Nathan's Famous, the well-known hot dog chain; Kraft Foods, which manufactures Oscar Mayer wieners; Sara Lee; ConAgra, which makes Hebrew National franks; and Marathon, manufacturer of Sabrett, the frankfurter New Yorker's [sic] relish.

The plaintiffs envision a warning label similar to the one currently on cigarette packages. The wording would look something like: Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.

The suit notes that a two-year-old study from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that the amount of processed meat in a single hot dog about two ounces increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. That study recommends limiting red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week, and avoiding processed meats altogether (this includes bologna and similar cold cuts). Another study, released this year by the National Cancer Institute, found that individuals who eat large amounts of red and processed meats are more likely to die, especially from cancer or heart disease.

Nitrites, used to keep hot dogs fresh, are the main culprit, according to the suit. They join themselves to naturally-occurring amines, forming carcinogenic compounds.

The action was brought on behalf of John O'Donnell, Ruthann Hilland, and Michele DeScisciolo, three New Jersey residents who bought hot dogs oblivious to the link between processed meats and colorectal cancer.

Despite its generic name, The Cancer Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., is focused on promoting a healthy diet that decreases the risk of cancer. The group specifically recommends a diet that is free of animal products, high in plant foods, and low in fat.

According to The Cancer Project, Americans ate 1.5 billion pounds of hot dogs in 2006. Equally (or more) disgustingly, the average person eats 32 pounds of processed meat every year. Sixty-two percent of Americans eat some form of processed meat. It's no wonder, then, that 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year.

The hot dog is a quintessentially American food with a long and storied history. The exact origin of the meat is in dispute, although it popped up in America in the 1870's, when a German immigrant began selling them on Coney Island in Brooklyn. The same location has since become the site of the most famous annual hot dog eating contest, sponsored by Nathan's and held every fourth of July. This year, three-time champion Joey Chestnut downed 68 franks. He'd be well advised to keep up on his colonoscopies.

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