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August 11, 2009

Hot Dog Under Fire

In the latest bizarre lawsuit, The Cancer Project has filed a lawsuit in Essex County, NJ against Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, ConAgra, and Marathon – all companies which manufacture hot dogs, in a claim that hot dogs are cancer causing and should have health warnings on the packaging, similar to the ones found on cigarette cartons. The suit is being filed on behalf of three New Jersey residents.

The Cancer Project, a non-profit organization which promotes a diet “free of animal products, high in plant foods and low in fat”, believes nitrates, which are found in nearly all processed meat, are cancer causing. This claim is based upon two separate studies done by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the National Cancer Institute. The studies “suggests that eating the amount of processed meat in a single hot dog — about 2 ounces — every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%” and “that people who eat large amounts of red and processed meats are more likely to die from cancer or cardiovascular disease”.


After breaking the shocking “hot dog scandal” to my husband I asked him, “So if there were warning labels on hot dogs, would you actually eat less of them?”

“Of course”, he replied without hesitation.

Hmmm. This coming from the guy who has no qualms about eating at McDonald’s once a week…

Just to be sure, I told my ten year old daughter, who enjoys a good wiener roast with the rest of them. Her reply:

“What?! That is soooo stupid! I mean, it’s not the hot dog companies fault…seriously, people need to learn how to lay off the hot dogs.”

And there you have it.

In a cliché attempt to play devil’s advocate, I do believe that corporate greed far surpasses any due care and attention to human well-being. However, as my hot-dog-loving husband said, even he would consume less of these foods if he was aware of the health risks involved.  Obviously if even a small percentage of people felt this way, these companies would feel it at their bottom line. As we’ve seen in recent years, this type of loss could eventually snowball into downsizing and layoffs – not something our economy needs right now.

But while I agree that sometimes drastic measures need to be taken in order to generate positive change, where does it end? Should alcohol bottles have warning labels? Bags of chips? Slurpee cups? Denny’s is currently being sued over the sodium content in their food. I mean, who eats at Denny’s often enough for the sodium content to be life threatening? I go there maybe three times a year, with my head held down in shame for such blatant abuse to my waistline – fully aware that it’s not exactly nutritious food I’m eating. Are there still those among us who are completely clueless as to what’s unhealthy? I had only to look as far as the other side of my bed: my husband was surprised to learn that nitrates are cancer causing. Ok, so maybe not everyone is aware of the possible cancer link, but who doesn’t know that hot dogs aren’t exactly “healthy”?     I decided to take this debate to another demographic of people, those who experience the all mighty “warning label” on a daily basis: smokers.

Debbie, a life-long smoker, scoffed when she heard the news.

“This would open the biggest can of worms. They’re labeling us to death! People are going to do what they like to do, regardless of the consequences. Have I quit smoking because of the ugly packaging on my cigarettes? No. Where does is end?”

My thoughts exactly.

So who ultimately holds the responsibility: consumers or manufacturers?

Food companies are already required to list the ingredients on the packaging so perhaps people should take the time to read them – if there are things you don’t understand, do a little research! Personally, I try to read the ingredients on almost everything I buy from the grocery store. If there are more than 2 words I can’t even pronounce, I don’t eat it. If the list is a paragraph long, I don’t eat it. We have to educate ourselves, because the corporate dollar doesn’t care about my health – that’s my job.

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