A vegan advocacy group calling itself the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sued two Southern California school districts earlier this week in an effort to prohibit the districts from serving school lunches containing a wide variety of meats.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — America’s second largest — and the Poway school district in San Diego County are the defendants in the lawsuits, reports Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC-TV.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine seeks to prevent schools from serving lunches with any kind of cured or processed meats including bacon, sausage, bologna and hot dogs.
The lawsuit filed in San Diego County cites a 2015 study from the World Health Organization which suggests that consuming a single hot dog each day — or its processed meat equivalent — marginally raises the risk of colorectal cancer.
Both lawsuits contend that school lunch ladies in the two Southern California counties are flouting California state regulations which require public schools to serve food of the “greatest nutritional value possible” and of the “highest quality.”
The founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Neal Barnard, swears that keeping kids from eating bacon and hot dogs in their school lunches is as important as the public-health war on smoking.
“Scientifically, there is no argument,” Barnard, a doctor with a medical degree from George Washington University, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Everybody knows we shouldn’t be serving this stuff to children.” (RELATED: U.S. News ‘De-Ranks’ George Washington U. After Cheating Flap)
“Simply providing the foods sends the message that processed meats are healthful and part of a nutritious diet, which is clearly at variance with scientific fact,” Barnard also said.
The American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, Otis Brawley, provided perspective for Barnard’s claims.
“A lot of people are taken aback when they learn that bologna is in the same category as cigarettes, but they need to understand that the estimated number of cancer deaths from processed meat is about 34,000 per year while it’s 1 million for smoking,” Brawley told the Union-Tribune.
The Union-Tribune’s cursory glance at some recent Poway school district lunch menus shows that the district serves plenty of processed meats including turkey hot dogs, chicken corn dogs and stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza. There’s also plenty of foods that are not processed including orange chicken with rice and bean and cheese burritos.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine promotes “a healthy vegetarian diet or vegan diet” as “the optimal way to meet your nutritional needs.” The lobbying group also seeks to end research on animals.
In order to secure standing to sue in California courts, the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine had to find local residents willing to claim to be harmed by school lunches.
Jennifer Mack, a Los Angeles school teacher, volunteered to be a plaintiff in Los Angeles.
A couple of parents, Tracy Childs and Steven Sarnoff, volunteered to be the plaintiffs in San Diego County.
“They’re breaking the law because it states that schools should be serving the best foods possible, and that is not processed meats,” Childs told the Union-Tribune.
Childs, a nutritionist and a vegan since she was 17, is the mother of children who previously attended schools in the Poway school district.
The North American Meat Institute characterized the lawsuits as a stunt, according to KABC-TV.
The American Association of Meat Processors also condemned the lawsuits.
“Processed meats make up a safe and nutritious part of a balanced diet and there is no scientific data to support removing them from school menus for being unhealthy,” American Association of Meat Processors executive director Chris Young told the Union-Tribune.