Hot dogs under fire in schools - Philadelphia news

July 31, 2008 5:21:33 PM PDT
A provocative new commercial is airing in Philadelphia this week, suggesting schools ban hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and other processed meat from school menus.

The Cancer Project, an offshoot of the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, launched its nationwide campaign against the meats in Philadelphia. The group says public schools in the city offer the meats on all breakfast menus in the district.

The group's "Protect Our Kids" spot plays on studies linking processed meats to a higher risk of colon cancer. It shows children speaking as adults about their experience with cancer.

Dr. Ana Negron, a volunteer with the group, told Action News that a 2007 study done by the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the World Cancer Research Fund clearly made a link. "The study says just an ounce and a half of processed meat- just the size of a hot dog, raises the risk of cancer by 21%. These foods used to be special occasion foods - a birthday party, a picnic, a weekend meal. But now, children eat them every day."

She added, "We need to really think of how to make better choices for the breakfast and lunch menu."

The American Meat Institute, an industry group, refuted the Cancer Project's claim, saying numerous studies show processed meats are safe and nutritious.

Food service officials with the Philadelphia School District say The Cancer Project's claims are wrong. They say the amounts of processed meat have been dramatically reduced in recent years, and that hot dogs are only offered about once a month. In addition, there's more turkey on the menu, including turkey pepperoni as a pizza topping.

The district says the use of sausage links has been cut, with a low-fat, no-nitrite patty replacing them. This year, the sausage links will be gone completely from school menus.

City schools have partnered with Temple University nutrition experts, and with the Food Trust to massively revamp the menus to offer healthier choices.

The Cancer Project also surveyed 27 other U.S. school districts and says it found similar results. It is currently campaigning to reform the federal Child Nutrition Act, which is up for renewal in 2009. That legislation determines what foods are served in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program. Financially pressed districts like Philadelphia rely heavily on foods the Agriculture Department makes available to that program.