Nitrates and charcuterie: French MPs call for 2025 ban

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Regulatory opposition mounts to nitrates in deli meats / GettyImages-jenifoto
Regulatory opposition mounts to nitrates in deli meats / GettyImages-jenifoto

Related tags: nitrates

A French Parliamentary report recommends the use of nitrates in processed meats should be gradually phased out by 2025 over concerns that consumption of this controversial additive – used to extend the shelf life and prevent the oxidisation of processed meats – can be linked to a higher cancer risk.

According to the report’s findings, which were presented today (13 January), around 76% of charcuterie available in French supermarkets has been treated with nitrate salts. This should be reduced, the report recommends.

The first step should be to ‘prohibit the use of nitrate additives in the deli from 1 January 2023’ for meat products that are not heat treated. Then, from 1 January 2025, the authors want to extend this ‘for all meat products’.

The MPs behind the report - Richard Ramos, Barbara Bessot-Ballot and Michèle Crouzet - based their opinion on discussions with scientific experts, industry representatives and civil society. Ramos has already tabled a bill proposing a nitrate ban – with a debate date yet to be set – while the government has requested ANSES (the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) to investigate.

The report’s rapporteurs acknowledged that any ban would be a ‘real transition for the sector’ and urged the public authorities to provide financial support. They argue that a ‘public fund’ to ‘support the adaptation of production’ – particularly for SMEs – should be established.
The report has been warmly received by consumer rights campaigners Foodwatch as well as the League Against Cancer, which presented evidence to MPs.

"With nearly 4,000 cases of colorectal and stomach cancer per year attributed to nitritated meats, the League against cancer welcomes a parliamentary report which aims to reduce this number of preventable cancers,”​ Axel Kahn, president of the League Against Cancer, said.

The report stressed that, as a health imperative, nitrate-free options should be available to all – regardless of budget.

Highlighting the number of manufacturers that have brought out nitrate-free ranges – at a price premium – Foodwatch executive director Karine Jacquemart said that the industry needs to take responsibility for addressing this alleged double standard.

“Manufacturers know how to produce without added nitrites: for years, Herta, Fleury Michon, Aosta and Biocoop have proven it and now Le Gaulois has just announced it on its entire range. Their double play must end. Now is the time to do without these additives E249, E250, E251, E252 for all products,”​ Jacquemart insisted.

Courts drawn into nitrate debate

A petition calling for nitrate-free meat launched by Foodwatch, the League Against Cancer and French app provider Yuka has gathered nearly 325,000 signatures.

The battle over the use of nitrates will not just be acted out in the legislature. The courts will also weigh in after la Fédération Industrielle des Charcutiers Traiteurs (FICT) brought a legal challenge against Yuka for carrying the petition on its app earlier this month.

The FICT, which represents around 300 deli businesses, challenges the suggestion that a body of scientific evidence links nitrates to cancer risk. The industry organisation points to the potential resurgence of botulism cases should the use of nitrates be phased out.

Announcing the move to take on Yuka, FICT explained: “In the light of scientific expertise, the FICT disputes the veracity of the statements which are broadcast on the Yuka application concerning nitrites. As a result, we consider that Yuka's claims unfairly damage the image and reputation of deli products.

“The FICT considers that the Yuka application, which provides information to nearly 6 million consumers, has the responsibility of communicating elements that must be scientifically justified.”

But in the face of legal action, Yuka remains committed to the aim of removing nitrates from the food system. Benoît Martin, co-founder of Yuka commented: “There was already a strong scientific consensus on the subject of added nitrites. There is now a political will to ban them. This parliamentary report reinforces our mission in the face of pressure attempts on the part of certain manufacturers.”

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