Billboard warns NASCAR fans about hot dogs, stirs controversy

(CBS) Let's be frank: Hot dogs probably aren't anyone's idea of a health food. But a new billboard erected near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway issues a stark warning to the legions of weiner lovers who show up for races.

The sign, erected by a watchdog group that has long promoted vegan diets, shows hot dogs poking out of a cigarette package emblazoned with a skull and crossbones and reads "Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health..

What's the group's beef with hot dogs?

"A hot dog a day could send you to an early grave," Susan Levin, a registered dietitian who serves as nutrition education director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a written statement. "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."

The potential health risk of eating hot dogs have been well established. And as CBS News reported in 2010, the risks are associated with bacon and sausage as well as hot dogs.

The group said downing one dog a day can increase the risk for colorectal cancer by 21 percent. Each year, about 143,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 53,000 die of it.

"We've had an epidemic of colorectal cancer for decades," the group's president, Dr. Neal Barnard, told CBS New in an email. "Only fairly recently has it become clear that a big part of the reason is the American appetite for hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and other processed meats."

What does the meat industry have to say about the billboard?

"This is an absurd claim," Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog & 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 called cancer "a very complicated issue" and said the group's real agenda was to eliminate meat from the diets of Americans.

"This is an animal rights group that wants to take away your choices," she said.


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