Long Island Schools May Ban Processed MeatOct 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
A ban was just proposed by a group of doctors to eliminate hot dogs, cold cuts, and other processed meats from school cafeterias on Long Island and nationwide. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and its subsidiary, The Cancer Project, filed a petition asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ban processed meats such as ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, and bologna from school lunches over their high concentration of chemical preservatives such as nitrates. Nitrates are linked to increased cancer risks, said Dr. Neal Barnard, the group’s president.
The 7,000 member group promotes vegetarian diets and opposes animal research. "If parents saw how these products are made, it would be the last thing they'd let their child go near," he said. Hot dogs are made by "grinding up pigs' lips and esophagus," he noted. Rockville Centre schools superintendent William Johnson said a ban would only work if the USDA replaces the meat with healthier options. "Parents are still going to send their kids to school with lunches that are made with the very same meats."
The petition asks the USDA to eliminate processed meats from the commodities they distribute to schools and for schools that purchase such products elsewhere, to withhold food service program reimbursement for student meals. USDA spokeswoman Jean Daniel said she had not seen the petition but it would be given serious consideration.
Low-fat ham and turkey are the only meats listed in the petition that the USDA distributes to schools, Daniel said. Meanwhile, based on surveys food service directors completed last year indicating the products they want from the government, Long Island schools will only receive deli turkey breast this school year, said Thomas Osterhout. Osterhout is from the state Office of General Services, and oversees the distribution of USDA commodities to New York schools. "If a school is using hot dogs," Osterhout said, "they're buying them elsewhere."
Sharon Gardner, Hempstead schools food service director, said, "We shouldn't be offering bacon to kids at all. My kids never see bacon. It's bad for them." Hempstead's cafeterias serve turkey sausage and deli meat, she noted. Carol Beebe, executive director of the New York School Nutrition Association, said cafeterias rely on processed meats to feed “mass quantities of students” under financial constraints. "If you bring a raw product in your kitchen, the threat of contamination is very high." Barnard hopes the USDA will offer schools healthier choices like veggie nuggets and dogs. "Our goal is not to punish the schools," he said. "It's very disgusting to hear school lunch administrators say that unless they're serving unhealthy food, kids won't buy them."
The petition cites the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research that "risk increases on average by 21 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily. A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a hot dog." Lilian Cheung, a registered dietitian at Harvard School of Public Health, said all processed meat should be avoided. "It's usually very high in sodium," she said. "We know sodium is tied to high blood pressure…. Going to a more plant-based diet with more legumes, nuts, and whole grains is the way to go."