San Diego

Group Seeks Processed Meat Ban in California Schools

A Los Angeles teacher and two parents of Poway district students joined the suit.

An advocacy group has sued the Poway Unified School District for serving hot dogs and other processed meats to students, arguing that they increase the risk of cancer, it was announced Wednesday.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed the lawsuit Tuesday asking a court to ban the district from offering processed meats. It seeks the same ban for the Los Angeles School District. 

The suit, filed in San Diego County, says there is a "recognized association between eating processed meats ... and developing cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease."

The Poway Unified School District is the third largest in San Diego County and serves more than 30,000 students. The Los Angeles district is the nation's second-largest with more than 660,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The district lunch menu for April lists several processed meat items, including a "turkey pastrami croissandwich with cheese" and a turkey hot dog. Breakfasts can include beef sausage or turkey chorizo.

Serving such meats violates California's Education Code, which requires school food to be of "highest quality" and provide the "greatest nutritional value possible," according to the suit, which names both school districts and the California Department of Education.

A Los Angeles teacher and two parents of Poway district students joined the suit.

"As parents, we want what's best for our kids," parent Tracy Childs said in a statement in a Physicians Committee news release. "Providing healthy school meals is a no-brainer. Not only do healthful foods help students learn and focus in the classroom today, but they can protect our children's future health."

While the lawsuit names the state, the Physicians Committee focused on the two school districts because "we looked at menus throughout the state and found these menus to be particularly full of processed meat," spokeswoman Laura Anderson said. "Additionally, we had residents in these districts reach out to us and ask for our help in improving the meals served in their local schools."

NBC4 reached out to the Los Angeles school district for comment, but officials said they had not received the claim, yet.

A message seeking comment from the Poway district wasn't immediately returned.

The Physicians Committee, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, has long advocated vegetarian and vegan diets. Last month, it sent a petition urging Amtrak to eliminate processed meats from its menus.

The North American Meat Institute, an industry group, called the lawsuit involving the school districts a publicity stunt.

"We stand by the nutrition benefits that meat -- both fresh and processed --- provide for growing children" such as being a good source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, spokeswoman Janet Riley said.

The lawsuit cites a 2015 report by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer that labeled processed meats as carcinogenic to humans.

Researchers who examined a number of studies concluded that the risk of getting colorectal cancer increased for every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily -- the equivalent of one hot dog.

That would raise the lifetime risk of colon cancer from 5 percent to around 6 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

The lawsuit also cites various other studies it says have linked processed meats to increased risks of cardiovascular and other diseases.

California's Proposition 65, which requires warning signs for places and items that contain cancer-causing chemicals, hasn't required them for processed meat.

However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year to require such labels on packages of processed meat.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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