Should processed meat be added to Prop 65 list? Court orders state of California to answer petition

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit founded by Dr Neal Barnard – a vocal advocate for plant-based diets – has been calling on California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to add processed meat to the Prop 65 list since 2015, when the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified​ processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

Were OEHHA to do so, scores of products from sausages to deli meats, frankfurters and jerky would require Prop 65 health warnings, which feature wording such as: “⚠ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including ​[insert substance here], which is known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information, go to​.”

OEHHA: Prop 65 listing for processed meat would ‘result in an over-inclusive warning’

After five years of petitioning the OEHHA to take action, the PCRM filed a lawsuit in March 2020 seeking to compel Governor Gavin Newsom to add processed meats to the Prop 65 list.

In a letter ​to PCRM founder Dr Barnard published on its website however, OEHHA argued that processed meat is not a single chemical (like other substances on the Prop 65 list) but a heterogeneous collection of meats from different sources that are processed or prepared with different methods, which meant adding processed meat to the Prop 65 list would “result in an over-inclusive warning.” 

The IARC, for example, has identified ‘outdoor air pollution’ as carcinogenic, but ‘polluted air’ is not on the Prop 65 list for obvious practical reasons, said OEHHA, which said it was also prevented by law from adding a category as poorly defined as ‘processed meat’ to the Prop 65 list.

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