A coalition call to ban nitrites from our meat
Professor Chris Elliott urges the UK to follow France in a move that would see the use of nitrates – which have been linked to cancer and arguably have no real purpose in production – prohibited in red meats such as bacon.
A large and impressive coalition has launched over the weekend (9-10 July 2022) calling for a ban on nitrites in process meats in the UK. The group, which includes leading figures from all four political parties, a former World Health Organisation professor and myself, want the UK to follow France in legislating against the dangerous chemicals that are present in much of the processed meats we purchase.
Emmanuel Macron’s governing party is leading efforts in France to restrict industrial bacon producers from adding chemicals which have been linked to cancer during their production process. Earlier this year, the French Parliament passed a bill to further limit the use of nitrites in cured meats like bacon and ham. This is a hugely significant moment in time and I hope will kick start not only a UK ban but action across the world.
A history of nitrates and bacon
Nitrites have been used to cure bacon and ham for many decades, but why? There were claims it was to protect us all from botulism, but this have been disproven. It’s actually all been about providing the pink colour that consumers have come to expect from bacon and ham.
However, there is a clear and growing body of evidence that nitrites produce cancer-causing nitrosamines in the stomach when cooked bacon is ingested. According to estimates by the Global Burden of Disease Project about 34 000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.1 This is something we simply cannot afford to ignore anymore.
You may also like:
Banning the use of nitrites in the manufacturing of bacon and ham should be a relatively straightforward thing for the meat industry to do. It has been proven that we no longer need these chemicals to make the delicious tasting and wonderful looking bacon that so many of us love as part of our regular diet. So if you can make bacon that tastes the same, looks the same and is just as affordable without the need for possibly carcinogenic chemicals, the question is why would anyone choose to use them? These questions I have posed to many meat industry representatives for a number of years. The excuse has always been around botulism which does not hold any water and the meat industry now know this to be the case.
When you look at France, a significant proportion of French cured meats are now made without nitrites. The UK’s biggest selling brand of bacon, Better Naked, has been nitrite-free since it launched in 2018. I know this well as I took a very keen interest on this fantastic innovation from a Northern Irish food company. In addition, Marks & Spencer has sold nitrite-free bacon for years and Waitrose recently launched its own version too. These businesses should be applauded for leading the way – and now is the time for everyone else to follow suit.