Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Files Lawsuit Against the State of California Alleging OEHHA Failed to Include Processed Meat on Prop 65 List
On March 11, 2020, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a lawsuit against the State of California alleging government officials failed to include “cancer-causing processed meat” on California’s Proposition 65 list (“Prop 65”), which requires businesses to inform California residents about exposures to listed chemicals that can cause cancer or reproductive harm. In its lawsuit, PCRM argues that California has neglected to follow a state law requiring the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to include on its carcinogen list “[s]ubstances listed as human or animal carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).” In 2015, IARC classified consumption of processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” based on the Agency’s determination that there is sufficient evidence of colorectal cancer after assessing more than 800 epidemiological studies.
PCRM has pressured OEHHA since 2018. In 2018, PCRM backed SCR 100, a resolution introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) that urged OEHHA to add processed meat—such as hot dogs, bacon, and deli meat—to the Prop 65 list. This resolution died in the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee.
PCRM argues that adding processed meat to the Prop 65 list will provide first line defense against colorectal cancer. Allan Hirsch, deputy director at OEHHA noted that IARC did not conclude that any specific types of processed meat are known to be carcinogenic. Hirsch also stated that Prop 65 is a right to know statute that entitles Californians to clear and reasonable warnings about specific substances that can cause cancer, and that listing “processed meat (consumption of)” would not provide adequate guidance to consumers or businesses, as the listing would include meat products that have not been shown to cause cancer. OEHHA concluded that adding “processed meat” to the Prop 65 list would ultimately result in an “overinclusive warning.” We will continue to monitor any developments.