The Opening Serve: The PCRM erected a billboard equating sausages to cancer near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway reading: "Hot Dogs Can Wreck Your Health." Pictured were frankfurters in a cigarette pack, with a link to cancerproject.org, a website which the PCRM runs. "A hot dog a day could send you to an early grave," writes PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin in a statement on July 25. "Processed meats like hot dogs can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and various types of cancer. Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps racing fans and other consumers understand the health risk." Levin goes on to say that one 50-gram serving of processed meat (which she states is around the amount in a hot dog) per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer, by 21 percent on average.
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The Return Volley: "This is an absurd claim," Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, told CBS News. "Trying to link a food product that has clear nutritional value with a product like cigarettes, which have no redeeming qualities, is inflammatory and alarmist." She told CBS that cancer is a complex issue, but pointed to the group's ulterior agenda. "This is an animal rights group that wants to take away your choices," she said.
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In 2009 PCRM President Neil Barnard wrote that the PCRM has accepted funding from PETA and in 2004 The New York Times acknowledged the group's and Barnard's link to PETA. The PCRM Web site promotes vegan and vegetarian diet--the same for cancerproject.org, which is advertised on the billboard link. In February of this year they sued the University of Washington over ferret testing, in a Seattle Times report. And in 2007, the American Medical Association pointed that the group is made up of "fewer than five percent physician members." The AMA "condemned" the PCRM's "impeding" of humane responsible animal research--the PCRM had been previously cited in 2005.
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Levin maintains her stance in an interview with Seattle Weekly. "No, we're not making a leap," she said Monday. "You could probably smoke a cigarette a day and be fine. But no doctor is going to recommend it. The real message I want to deliver is that there is no safe amount [of hot dog eating] in terms of risk. If you want to quantify that, fine, but the risk is there."
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What They Say They're Fighting About: You and your possible cancer. Levin and the PCRM want to show just how risky eating a hot dog may be, and want to save you from making a cancer-ridden mistake. Riley thinks the claims are alarmist, and that comparing a food with cigarettes is "inflammatory and alarmist."
What They're Really Fighting About: Animal rights and your choice to choose what to eat. Riley argues that the PCRM is more an animal rights group than they are a cancer prevention group. She argues that they want to take away choices. Based on both PCRM websites, the group endorses a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle and the group's history indicates a strong observance for animal rights.
Who's Winning Now: Riley and hot dogs, frankfurters, sausages, etc. With such an extreme message, the PCRM doesn't take into account the casual hot dog eater who may, when the spirit moves him and the grill is fired up, partake in the occasional summer frank--the risk they describe is for someone who eats one 50g hot dog daily. The message may fall on deaf ears. The wrinkles in the PCRM's past also work against their message. Without full disclosure up front, sausage consumers may be turned off, even skeptical when looking at their animal rights connections.