Today's meat case is diverse and offers products to meet all nutritional needs including products that are low-fat, fat-free and reduced sodium, which allows consumers the right to choose the food they purchase and ultimately consume. While you aggressively attacked processed meat products for their sodium content, a government analysis of the top 20 sodium contributing foods included only three meat products. Rounding out the list were 17 other foods including salty snacks, cheeses, milk, white bread and other non-meat foods (Source: NHANES, 2003-2004).
Still, the meat industry is responding with efforts to offer reduced-sodium products. Product introduction data show that reduced sodium foods are a key trend. Across the board, there has been an increase number of new low-salt products on the market. According to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), there were 428 such launches in the U.S. in 2006; 542 in 2007 and 533 in 2008.
Just as ABC chose to cite studies that raise concern about processed meat products, numerous other studies have shown different results. Based upon the total body of evidence, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 5.5 ounces of meat per day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. They place no restrictions on processed meats which play an important role in a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products.
In addition, the largest and most precise study ever done on red meat and colon cancer, a 2004 Harvard School of Public Health pooled analysis, involved more than 725,000 men and women and was presented at the 2004 American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting. This enormous and statistically powerful study showed no relationship between red and processed meat and colon cancer. Numerous studies have since been published showing the same outcome.
Also of concern is the on-line companion to your broadcast story, which reads in part, "Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News medical contributor, said that the concern about these meats stems from possible carcinogens, such as nitrites." In 2000, the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a multi-year bioassay in which rats and mice were fed very high levels of nitrite – far higher than any human would ordinarily consume. After analyzing the results, a scientific panel determined that nitrite was not a carcinogen in laboratory animals and chose to keep it off the list included in the Annual Report on Carcinogens.
Those of us who follow nitrite science were not surprised by this finding. After all, less than five percent of nitrite intake comes from cured meat products. Ninety-three percent comes from vegetables and saliva. Considering that experts advise consuming vegetables for their anti-cancer properties, we were confident that nitrite was safe. Since the 2000 NTP report, a large body of research has emerged at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas Health Science Center which show that not only is sodium nitrite safe in the levels consumed, it actually has health benefits.