A leading scientist in the UK has called on the country to ban the use of nitrites in processed meat, after publishing a study which adds to the body of evidence showing the additives can increase the risk of cancer .
Professor Chris Elliott, who led the UK government’s food systems review following the 2013 horsemeat scandal, has urged the government to impose a ban on chemicals, which are used as preservatives.
Earlier this year, the French health agency Anses confirmed a link between nitrites and nitrates in ham and sausages and the development of colorectal cancer – otherwise known as bowel cancer.
The French government has since begun planning to reduce or phase out nitrites from meats processed in the country.
Elliott, along with colleagues from Queen’s University Belfast, conducted a study on pork consumption in mice for eight weeks.
The mice were fed a diet of 15% nitrite-free pork, nitrate-free sausage, or nitrite-containing sausage in the form of a frankfurter.
The mice were compared to a control group, which was fed an all food diet – a balanced diet consisting mainly of grains.
Mice eating the frankfurters containing nitrite had 53% more gastrointestinal tumors than the control group.
The study authors noted that while 15% nitrated pork in the diet was “a relatively high consumption of processed meat”, all previous preclinical trials had used a minimum of 50% processed meat in the diet. food.
“This clearly demonstrates that lower dietary amounts can exacerbate disease,” they wrote.
“Very real risk to public health”
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in Europe and one of the leading causes of death.
Many health organizations already advise reducing the risk of developing this cancer by eating a healthy diet and avoiding processed meat and red meat.
The UK’s NHS recommends anyone who eats more than 90g of red or processed meat a day to reduce to 70g, which may help reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
Professor Chris Elliott has called on the UK government to ban the use of nitrites “as they have already done in France”.
“The results of this new study make the cancer risk associated with nitrite jerky even clearer. The daily consumption of bacon and ham containing nitrites poses a very real risk to public health,” he said.
Dr Brian Green, another of the report’s authors, said: “The results of our study clearly show that not all processed meats have the same cancer risk and that the consumption of processed meat containing nitrites exacerbates the development of cancerous tumours”.