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Alleged Hot Dog and Cancer Connection: The truth about vegan group's cancer claims

The Cancer Project, a vegan, animal rights group, has created a campaign claiming that hot dogs cause cancer. Not only does the Cancer Project campaign cite controversial science, the group uses scare tactics meant to alarm and mislead consumers about processed meats such as hot dogs.

The truth is the Cancer Project is backed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a group that is made up of only a small portion of actual physicians. The group has ties to animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Their tactics, such as frightening consumers with outrageous cancer claims, have been criticized by reputable science and health organizations.

What are the Cancer Project’s allegations about hot dogs? Here are some of their misleading hot dog claims and the truth behind them.

Misleading Claim 1: The Cancer Project claims that hot dogs are dangerous by citing the American Institute for Cancer Research’s 2007 study, whose findings are inconclusive on the subject. Conveniently, the Cancer Project only cites portions of the existing research, leaving out the fact that other studies have shown no relationship between processed meat or hot dogs and cancer.

In addition, the Cancer Project says that hot dogs should be removed from kids’ diets based on findings by the American Institute for Cancer Research -- even though that research was done on adults, not children. In fact, the American Cancer Society has questioned the Cancer Project’s claims against hot dogs, saying that “an occasional hot dog isn’t going to increase [cancer] risk.”

Truth: The Cancer Project’s claim that eating hot dogs and other processed meats can increase cancer risk is based on inconclusive science.

Misleading Claim 2: As part of their vegan agenda, the Cancer Project petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to change the Child Nutrition Act and remove hot dogs and other processed meats from the National School Lunch Program. However, hot dogs and other processed meats fit into the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which are strictly followed by the National School Lunch Program. 

The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that people consume 5-6 ounces of meat a day, and one hot dog is only 1.7 ounces. Groups like the American Dietetic Association have affirmed that processed meats do play a role in a healthy diet, providing protein and essential vitamins and minerals. Eaten in moderation, hot dogs can be part of a balanced diet.

Truth: The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that people consume 5-6 ounces of meat a day.

Misleading Claim 3: The Cancer Project and PCRM ignored established facts, claiming that adding sodium nitrate and nitrite to processed meat and hot dogs to preserve meat is dangerous. In reality, the National Toxicology Program concluded the opposite, following a multi-year study published in 2000. 

Likewise, National Institutes of Health researchers are finding not just nitrite’s safety, but its benefits. They are studying the infusion of sodium nitrite as a potent treatment for sickle cell anemia, heart attacks, brain aneurysms, even an illness that suffocates babies. 

Truth: The Cancer Project and PCRM ignored the facts on nitrite, which has been deemed “safe” by the National Toxicology Program, and which may even have benefits to health.

The Cancer Project chose to ignore prominent studies that showed no cancer link to hot dogs and processed meats. Read them here.

Learn more about hot dogs from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

Learn about Hot Dogs and Food Safety from the United States Department of Agriculture.