Calls for Cancer Warning Labels on High Risk Foods

Should warning labels be compulsory on foods and drinks that have a higher risk of causing cancer?
May 28, 2015

Should warning labels be compulsory on foods and drinks that have a higher risk of causing cancer? 
With 117 people losing their lives to cancer every day in Australia, shouldn’t we be doing all we can do reduce this number?

The World Cancer Research Fund has reported that consumers who repeatedly consume certain foods and drinks do have a higher risk of developing some cancers. According to Cancer Australia, it is responsible for the loss of more than half a million years of life each year, making it the leading cause of injury and disease in Australia.

Although it took decades, the link between smoking and cancer has finally been proven enough so that by law graphic warnings must be printed on every tobacco product. This raises the question, what needs to happen before a similar law can be applied to foods and drinks with a higher cancer risk?

What Could Put You at Risk?

Much evidence already suggests that alcohol increases the risk of getting some mouth, throat, breast and bowel cancers. Studies have also indicated that for every 100 grams of cooked meat eaten per week over 500 grams, the risk of developing bowel cancer is increased by 17 percent.

The World Cancer Research Fund recommends people minimise their intake of foods that contain high levels of salt as they have shown an increased risk of causing stomach cancer.

However, if such warning labels are to be included on foods and drinks that carry a higher risk of causing cancer, should foods and drinks that lower the risks be able to say so? Some studies reportedly suggest that regularly eating garlic, vegetables, fruits and foods high in fibre reduce the risk of bowel cancer by 10 percent.

Foods high in folate and calcium also reportedly lower the risk of certain cancers, as well as fruits and vegetables that are low in starch.

Cancer Warning Labels

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) currently have standards in place that regulate nutritional content or health claims on food and drink labels. The difference between these claims and the cancer warning labels is that the current claims are voluntary, whereas the warning labels would not be.

Suggestions have been put forth that the FSANZ or the National Health and Medical Research Council become the authority responsible for regulating the policy regarding cancer warning labels. Given that the importance of food safety is continually increasing, anything that can help lower the risk of a person becoming ill surely has to be a good thing.

With regard to smoking, if nothing else, the graphic warning labels on tobacco products serve to inform consumers of the many dangers of smoking so that they can make an informed decision. The same could be said for cancer warning labels on foods and drinks if they are introduced. At least consumers would be informed about the possible risks of certain foods and drinks, which they likely might not have known.