News 16.11.2023

Additives used in meats are linked to cancer risk

  • politics and law
  • Transparency and food safety
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A foodwatch newsletter by Camille Dorioz, Campaign Manager at foodwatch France.

Nitrites and nitrates (e.g. E249, E250, E251, and E252) are additives that are omnipresent in our foods mainly in ham, sausages, beef burgers, bacon, etc

At the beginning of the year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) raised alarm about them. Nitrosamine, one of the component that appear when nitrates and nitrites are added to transform meat, may cause cancer and damage your DNA. EFSA concluded that current exposure levels are a ‘health concern’ for people of all ages.

Instead of regulating these additives, the European Commission leaves the field to the industry and proposes voluntary reductions by manufacturers. This is a strategy that has not worked for so many other areas of public interest (see e.g. sugar reduction or child marketing) and only serves the industry to prolong the time for not starting to find safe alternatives as there will be no mandatory measures. 

The battle took place first in France before coming to the EU. A similar decision was made in France to voluntarily reduce the levels of nitrates and nitrites in food. These lackluster responses disregard the urgent need for strong regulations, ignoring the concern of more than half a million citizens who supported the campaign of foodwatch France, the League Against Cancer, and Yuka, demanding a ban of nitrites and nitrates added in food.

foodwatch is calling on the responsible ministries in France and the European Commission to introduce a nitrite/nitrate ban. Sign the French petition now to protest for nitrite-free food!

The legislative proposals should be by far more ambitious. A ban of nitrites and nitrates in our food is possible. There is proof already that industry has alternatives: There are 'nitrite-free' products on the market already, such as Parma Ham which eliminated these additives 30 years ago.
 The reluctance to take a firm stand against nitrites and nitrates, despite clear evidence and public support, signals a surrender to industry pressure over public health.

foodwatch demands the immediate elimination of nitrites in foods where alternatives are already sold and research for a total elimination in meat products within five years. Thousands of cancer cases could be avoidedThere is no acceptable level of cancer risk in our food.