Speaking after receiving a report on the subject commissioned from food research group Campden BRI, a DEFRA spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com: “Europe is reviewing the use of nitrates and nitrites in organic bacon and cured meats under the EU Organic Standards later this year.
“We’re working with producers to look at how any changes might affect UK producers, as well as looking at the scientific evidence on food safety, before making a decision on whether we think any changes are necessary."
Sodium nitrite (E250) and potassium nitrate (E252) are used widely in the production of cured meats to prevent the growth of pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium responsible for botulism, and to add flavour and colour.
Campden’s report, Alternatives to Nitrates and Nitrites in Organic Meat Products, acknowledged significant industry concerns about how the proposed ban would affect the market for organic cured meats.
“Despite some manufacturers investigating the use of alternative ingredients, all hoped that continued use of nitrates and nitrites would be allowed,” according to the report’s summary. “Apart from one fermented meat product, all products were typical British cured meats, mainly bacon, ham and gammon in a range of cuts and joints, raw and cooked, smoked and unsmoked.”
While recognizing that the impact of such a ban would be difficult to quantify, the report stated: “Many small producers trade only in organic products and the effect would be greater in many respects on these operators. In terms of total value, the effect would obviously be greatest on the larger manufacturers and retailers.”
In summary, such a ban would mean: “… less choice for the consumer with perhaps organic cured meats replaced by another premium type product on the supermarket shelf,” concluded the report.
A spokesperson for UK organic pressure group the Soil Association told FoodNavigator that while her organization favoured measures to reduce additives in organic food, it supported the continued use of nitrates and nitrites in cured meat products.
“Recent research carried out on behalf of DEFRA has concluded that a ban at this time would be highly detrimental to UK producers as the technological alternatives are not generally available,” said the spokesperson. “We feel that this is a fair evaluation of the current situation.”