Doctors Appeal Judge’s Decision Allowing California Schools to Continue Serving Cancer-Causing Processed Meat

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The Physicians Committee—a nonprofit with 12,000 doctor members—has offered Los Angeles Unified School District and Poway Unified School District in California each a $5,000 grant to remove processed meat from menus. The grant offers coincide with an appeal the doctors group filed on Feb. 22, 2018, in response to a California judge’s ruling that schools should be permitted to serve processed meat—which the World Health Organization has classified as a Group 1 carcinogen.

In April 2017, the Physicians Committee filed suit to stop California's Los Angeles Unified School District and Poway Unified School District from serving students processed meat—including hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meat—which have strong links to colorectal cancer.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of local parents, alleged that serving foods linked to cancer in school lunches violates California’s Education Code, which mandates that school lunches be of the “highest quality” and “greatest nutritional value possible.” Cancer-causing meat products are available daily on many California public school menus.

This month, LAUSD’s lunch menus feature processed meat including “All Star Turkey Hot Dog or Mini Double Dogs,” “Pastrami & Cheese Croissant,” “Deli Turkey & Cheese Sandwich,” and “Savory Sausage Flatbread.” The breakfast menus feature “Hawaiian Cheesy Ham Slider” and “Morning Beef Sausage Sandwich.”

PUSD’s elementary school lunch menu features “Turkey Hot Dog,” “Pepperoni Pizza,” and “Mini Chicken Corn Dog.” The middle and high school lunch menu features “Pepperoni Pizza” and “Turkey & Cheese Deli Sandwich.”

The court ruled that processed meat can remain on the menu because the state Education Code does not explicitly bar the practice. The school districts had argued that they have the discretion to deem these carcinogenic products to be of the “highest quality” and “greatest nutritional value” despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary. The court wrote that the school districts had no “mandatory duty to identify processed meat as unhealthful or to discuss how and when processed meat would be reduced and/or phased out of school meals.”

Colorectal cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The World Health Organization determined that processed meat is a major contributor to the disease in a 2015 report classifying processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans.” The authors highlighted a meta-analysis that found an 18 percent increased cancer risk per 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily.

“With colorectal cancer rates steadily climbing in young people, it’s time to get known cancer-causing foods, like hot dogs and bacon, out of the school lunch line,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., Physicians Committee director of nutrition education.

A recent study published by the National Cancer Institute found that young people today have double and quadruple the risks of colon and rectal cancers, respectively, compared to those born in the 1950s, due in part to high consumption of processed meat.

Although California law defers to the WHO conclusions in other contexts—including school art supply warnings and the Proposition 65 carcinogens list—the judge rejected the Physicians Committee’s argument that the same deference should apply to cancer-causing food served in public schools.

The Physicians Committee is backing SCR 100, a resolution introduced in the California State Legislature last week that urges the Office of Environment Health Hazard Assessment to add processed meat to the Proposition 65 carcinogens list.

"California high school students can’t handle art supplies containing a Group 1 carcinogen without encountering a ‘CANCER HAZARD!’ warning label. Yet their schools fought in court for the right to serve them Group 1 carcinogens for lunch,” adds Ms. Levin.

In addition to cancer risk, processed meat can also raise the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, America’s leading cause of death, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health study of more than a half million people. A recent JAMA study found that processed meat consumption was tied to 57,766 deaths from cardiometabolic diseases in 2012.

For an interview with Ms. Levin, please contact Michael Keevican at 202-527-7367 or

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.



Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Michael Keevican, 202-527-7367


Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Back to news