UK Coalition Aims To End Use of Nitrites in Processed Meats Because of Potential Cancer Risks

A top National Health Services UK doctor has joined with a senior food scientist and regional politicians to escalate an effort to improve regulation over processed meats and other fatty foods. More specifically, the group has signed a joint statement urging government intervention and to request an awareness campaign that is similar to what have recently seen regarding sugar.  

More specifically, this group wants the government to ban the cancer-causing chemicals commonly used in food preservation processes.  They argue that within just a few years, we will look back at the meat industry the way we presently look at the tobacco industry. 

This coalition is led by food scientist Professor Chris Elliott, who actually ran the UK government investigation over a recent horse-meat scandal.  Other members of the coalition include: cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra; Labor Party deputy leader Tom Watson; Liberal Democratic vice-chair of the Westminster [cross-party] children’s group, Joan Walmsley; Tory chair of parliament’s [cross-party] group on food and health, David Amess; former shadow environment secretaries Kerry McCarthy and Mary Creagh; nutritionist Dr. Chriss Gil; and European parliament committee on environment, public health, and food safety member John Proctor MEP; as well as the Cancer Fund for Children. 

In a statement, the coalition cites “a growing consensus of scientific opinion” that the nitrites used in processed meats result in the production of something called carcinogenic nitrosamines, chemicals which scientists believe are responsible for the development of bowel cancer. 

Actually, we can look to a 2015 World Health Organization report which had originally classified processed meats (bacon, lunch meats, canned meat, etc) as a group one carcinogen that could result in an additional 34,000 [colorectal] cancer deaths around the globe every year.  The most recent analysis, however, equates these numbers to approximately 6,600 annual cases of bowel cancers in the UK. 

For reference, this is more than four times the fatalities recorded on British roads, annually.

Nitrites are ingredients food processors use to give cured products (like bacon and ham) a consistent, pink color.  These are not necessary in most products, especially with the growing concern over the potential cancer-related risks.  In fact, some companies are substituting natural alternatives from fruit and spice extracts to avoid these risks.