French ban on nitrates in meat: Charcuterie group hits out at attack on ‘national gastronomy’

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages-jenifoto
Pic: GettyImages-jenifoto

Related tags: nitrates

A bill to introduce a ‘progressive prohibition’ on the use of nitrates in meat production continued to make its way through the French legislative system today (26 January). But the development faced criticism from both sides of the debate, with health campaigners accusing the government of ‘slowing down’ and charcuterie producers characterising it as an assault on ‘national gastronomy’.

The proposed bill to ban added nitrites and nitrates to meat products - tabled by the deputies Richard Ramos, Patrick Mignola, Barbara Bessot Ballot, Michèle Crouzet - was debated by the French Economic Affairs Committee and is scheduled to be put to a final vote next week (3 February).

‘We do not understand why we waste so much time’

A number of amendments have been added by the government that, campaign group Foodwatch claims, are designed to ‘slow’ the progress of the regulation. Stipulations include a commitment that, within six months of adoption, the government will present a report to parliament that includes an opinion formulated by the National Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) on the ‘risks associated with the ingestion of nitrite additives in matters of public health’.

Within 12 months of this opinion, expected in mid-2022, a decree will set ‘a trajectory for reducing the maximum dose of nitrite additives’. This document may provide for exceptions to these maximum doses in the event of any ‘technical impossibility’ or ‘proven risks to human health’. This decree may establish a list of products subject to the ban and the schedule for implementation, the Economic Affairs Committee revealed.

Within 18 months of the publication of this decree, further legislation will specify procedures for implementing ‘specific labelling for products containing nitrate additives’ and ‘may define specific advertising condition’ for products containing them.

Foodwatch, which has been instrumental in the passage of the bill through its awareness campaign and a public petition developed alongside the League Against Cancer and app Yuka, said that the bill is a ‘step forward’ that demonstrates ‘political leaders recognise that additives based on nitrites and nitrates represent a public health issue’.

However, the activists continued: “We do not understand why we waste so much time. These are preventable cancers, and all the elements are already on the table. The ANSES report will be useful, but should not be a precondition for political action.”

The three organisations said they remain ‘more mobilised than ever’ urging citizens to engage with their parliamentary representatives ahead of next week’s vote.

Charcuterie industry hits back: ‘It threatens national gastronomy’

An industry body representing the charcuterie sector, the FICT, hit back at the plans insisting that the parliamentary information report that formed the basis of the bill is ‘neither relevant nor objective’.

FICT draws into question the conclusion of the report that added nitrates represent a public health threat and insisted that any legislation needs to await the ANSES opinion on nitrates, which will be published in June this year.

“The PPL, if adopted, would condemn most traditional charcuterie specialties that the whole world envies, such as our traditional dry sausages,”​ the group said, stressing that the implications of such a ban would reach well beyond ‘cooked ham’.

Nitrates are an additive used to preserve shelf life and prevent the oxidisation of processed meat. They are controversial because some studies have linked consumption to an increased cancer risk. For instance, recent research, published in the journal Nutrients, looked at existing peer-reviewed literature on the relationship between processed meat and the development of bowel, colon and rectal cancers.

The study’s authors, Dr Brian Green, Dr William Crowe and Professor Chris Elliot – all from the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) – initially examined all recent, English-language studies examining the potential link between processed meat and cancer risk.

The results were ‘inconclusive’, with around half the studies evidencing a connection between processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer (CRC).

However, when the researchers isolated studies that only tested consumption of processed meat containing sodium nitrate – a preservative that extends shelf life and enhances colour – evidence of a link to colorectal cancer ‘jumped’ from around half to 65%.

“When we looked at nitrite-containing processed meat in isolation – which is the first time this has been done in a comprehensive study – the results were much clearer,”​ explained Dr Crowe. “Almost two-thirds of studies found a link with cancer.”

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