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Study on Hot Dog Link to Cancer

June 15, 1994

Regarding "Hot Dogs Linked to Higher Risk of Cancers in Children," June 3: Critics of studies linking consumption of hot dogs to dramatically increased risks of childhood cancers pooh-pooh the findings as simply another example of the "carcinogen-of-the-week" syndrome.

Researchers and public-interest advocates have claimed for decades that nitrites in hot dogs create a cancer risk. Does that qualify hot dogs as the "carcinogen of the week"? As stated in The Times article, nitrites used in hot dogs "are converted in the body to highly carcinogenic nitrosamines" and "(past) animal studies have established that nitrites cause cancer." The latest findings simply bolster long-standing scientific suspicions.

Representatives of the hot dog industry will claim nitrite is needed as a preservative, but they really like nitrite because it makes meat more red. Fatty hot dogs would look gray rather than an attractive, more marketable pink without it. Until about 20 years ago, nitrites were also used for cosmetic purposes by baby food manufacturers in their meat-containing products. It was pressure from public-interest groups that persuaded manufacturers to stop putting it in baby food, and surprise, there is no shortage of safe baby food today.

Skeptics of the hot dog-cancer link would like to place upon the shoulders of consumer protection forces the burden of having to prove that a food additive or other chemical used in food production is unsafe before its use is prohibited, rather than placing the burden on the additive or chemical manufacturer/user to prove its safety. Is it not sensible to formulate public policy on the basis of erring on the side of protecting the public health and safety rather than the profits of narrow, special interests?


Los Angeles

* The article concerning the cancer risk of eating hot dogs will strike a familiar note with many of my former students. For years I have explained how nitrites in foods could cause cancer, especially the nitrites in hot dogs.

Nitrites in most foods, in the presence of stomach acid, are essentially neutralized in the stomach by reacting with the animal protein of the food. However, hot dogs are different, since they are usually a high-fat, low-protein food. In the absence of the protein, the nitrites will be absorbed into the blood and carried to all cells. This can result in the production of mutations, which may cause cancer. Any mutations in sperm cells may very well pass the problem on to the children.

Thus, the chemistry of nitrite interactions supports the findings of the USC group and the other researchers.


Laguna Hills

* My daughter was served "pigs in a blanket" for lunch at her day-care center recently. Bologna sandwiches frequently appear on her lunchtime menu as well.

USC researchers have linked nitrite consumption (hot dogs, bologna, ham and other processed meats) to childhood leukemia and suggest that children's nitrite consumption be limited to fewer than 12 servings per month. Some pediatricians recommend eliminating these processed meats from children's diets altogether.

Based on USC's findings, I have sent a letter and a copy of your article to my daughter's day-care center requesting that they stop serving nitrite-containing meats. If they will not stop serving them altogether, I'll ask that she be served an alternate sandwich on those days. Peanut butter and jelly may just be the best choice after all. Other parents should consider asking their children's schools and day-care centers to stop serving nitrite-laden processed meats. We wouldn't allow our children to be cared for in an environment where secondhand smoke is present, so why should we allow exposure to another known carcinogen.



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