On World Bacon Day, December 30, a panel of leading scientists and politicians called for tough government action to pull nitrates from bacon and other processed meats, citing “a growing consensus of scientific opinion” that cooking and eating nitrate-cured meat produces a carcinogen known as nitrosamine.
“The meat industry must act fast, act now – or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco,” said Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who helped lead the initiative, according to Sky News
Also led by Professor Chris Elliott of the Queen’s University Belfast Institute for Global Food Safety, the call for action was also backed by a number of nutritionists, food scientists, cancer NGOs, and prominent politicians involved in public health, the environment, and food safety in the UK.
Their push comes three years after the World Health Organization evaluated evidence on the links between nitrates in bacon and other processed meats with cancer. They concluded that processed meats should be categorized under “Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans” alongside other unsavory characters like alcohol, tobacco, asbestos, and soot.
Nitrite-free bacon is available in most supermarkets, however, the preservative chemicals are found in most bacon products and many other forms of processed meat such as sausages, ham, hot dogs, salami, etc.
It’s worth considering that less than 5 percent of the nitrates we consume day-to-day comes from food additives. Dietary nitrate can also be found in various leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, as well as drinking water. Nevertheless, the experts are now arguing that we need to reassess whether its worth actively adding this potentially dangerous preservative agent to our dinner plate.
"The vast majority of bacon on sale today still contains these dangerous carcinogens," said Dr Malhotra.
"Not only this, reminiscent of the tobacco industry's stance in the 1990s, some of those in the business of making and regulating food continue to claim that health risks from nitrite-cured meat are negligible. The evidence says otherwise.”
Bear in mind, they are not added to food for any sinister reason. On top of enhancing flavor, nitrates are used to fight off botulism, an especially nasty form of food poisoning caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Therefore, big producers are arguing that the anti-bacterial properties of nitrate cannot be ignored while assessing the many risks and factors involved in the debate on food safety.
"The industry is constantly looking at the levels of nitrites and nitrates, but reductions have to be balanced against the food safety issues and minimizing waste," a spokesperson for the British Meat Processors Association told BBC News.