A leading scientist has urged ministers to ban the use of nitrites in food after research highlighted the “clear” risk of cancer from eating processed meats such as bacon and ham too often.
The study, conducted by scientists from Queen’s University Belfast, found that mice fed a diet of processed meat containing the chemicals, which are used to cure bacon and give it its distinctive pink colour, developed 75% more cancerous tumors than mice fed raw bacon. from nitrite.
It also found that mice fed pork treated with nitrite developed 82% more intestinal tumors than the control group.
Among those who conducted the research experiment, in which rats were fed a diet of 15% processed meat containing nitrites, was Professor Chris Elliott OBE, who led the government’s investigation into the horsemeat scandal in 2013.
Elliott called on the government to change its position on nitrites in processed meats in light of the study. The results of this new study make the cancer risks associated with nitrite-cured meats even more clear. Daily consumption of bacon and pork containing nitrites poses a real risk to public health.”
The study found that mice fed a similar amount of nitrite-free pork had no increase in tumors, which indicates that consumption of the chemicals had a significant effect on cancer risk.
“The results of our study clearly show that not all processed meats carry the same cancer risk and that consumption of processed nitrites containing meat exacerbates the development of carcinoid tumors,” said Dr. Brian Green, one of the authors of the report, which was published in the journal Nature.
About 90% of bacon sold in Britain is believed to contain nitrites, which previous research studies have linked to bowel, breast and prostate cancer. The chemical is also used in some continental meat products such as frankfurters.
Although a diet of 15% processed meat containing nitrites is considered a relatively high intake, the researchers suggested that their findings showed that consuming less could increase the risk of cancer.
The European Food Safety Authority recently published an updated draft opinion stating that suggested levels of nitrites in food could indicate a health problem.
Meanwhile, the French government has committed to eliminating the use of nitrites in food production wherever possible, following the publication in July of a study by the National Health Agency that concluded the chemicals increased the risk of cancer.
Elliott, who is among a group of scientists, MPs and peers urging UK ministers to ban the use of chemicals in processed meat, added: “The EFSA and the French government are following the facts. It’s time the UK government did too.”
Another member of the group calling for a ban, Conservative MP Daniel Boulter, former health secretary under David Cameron who is also a practicing NHS doctor, added: “With the NHS facing increasing pressure, particularly to treat cancer, prevention has never been more important to our system.” health.
“I urge ministers to review the latest evidence on nitrites and act now in the face of these potential health risks.”
SNP Health and Welfare spokesperson Martin Day said: “By rejecting legislation banning these potentially dangerous nitrites, the UK government is failing to deliver on its promise to maintain high food standards post-Brexit.
The new study will be evaluated, said rick mumford, head of science, evidence and research at the food standards agency.
“Nitrates are important preservatives that hinder the growth of harmful organisms, particularly the bacteria responsible for food poisoning – which can be life threatening,” he said.
They are regulated as food additives and, before being licensed, must pass a robust safety evaluation.
“Because of the potential link between eating a lot of red and processed meat and bowel cancer, the government recommends limiting consumption of these products to 70g per day.”
Nitrites have been identified by the World Health Organization as the cause of 32,000 bowel cancer cases annually.