According to Curtis Tate, reporting for McClatchy DC, California is facing pressure to change its labels under Proposition 65. The ordinance requires customers to be notified of exposure to chemicals that could possibly cause cancer, birth defects or other health hazards. The legislature went into effect in 1986 and includes over 800 chemicals, including those present in cigarettes.
“Based on hundreds of studies, the international panel last month added bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and other processed meats to its list of Group I carcinogens, which include tobacco and asbestos,” writes Tate. “However, the panel emphasized that the classification of processed meats in that category did not mean the danger was equal to that of those substances.”
There has been strong resistance to the news, as many debate the findings of the WHO study. Therefore, meat producers will be hesitant to make any immediate changes to the labels, which could necessitate a trip to court to sort out the details.
“I expect to see a lot of activity from the meat industry about that process,” says Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a consumer watchdog group.
Janet Riley, senior vice president for public affairs at the North American Meat Institute, counters, “The level of reaction is not proportional to the level of threat.”
Advocates in favor of a label update believe there is no harm in posting the warning and letting the public decide for itself. The situation is comparable to a 2004 ruling involving tuna and the presence of mercury levels. The courts ruled that cans of tuna did not need additional labeling because any mercury present was not artificially added, and the levels were not significant enough to cause a risk, anyhow.
“It would be an uphill battle for the industry to contest this on the science,” adds Laura MacCleery, regulatory affairs attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “I think consumers would benefit from having information on the package.”