Fresh health warning over processed meat and beer as EU officials say they can contain cancer-causing chemicals
Health bosses have issued a fresh warning over cancer-causing chemicals found in bacon and beer.
Society’s current level of consumption of nitrosamines ‘raises a health concern’, EU officials warned today.
The chemicals, known to have been carcinogenic for decades, are not intentionally added to food.
Instead, they form due to a chemical reaction from adding food preservatives such as nitrates or nitrites.
Ten different types have already been detected in foods sold across the continent.
EU health chiefs have warned that cancer causing chemicals produced unintentionally as a result of using preservatives famously used in cure meats are cancerous and pose a ‘health concern’ (stock image)
Tests have found them in cured meat, processed fish and cocoa, as well as beer.
Other food groups, like processed vegetables, cereals, milk and other dairy products as well as fermented, pickled and spiced foods, could also contain nitrosamines, they said.
Yet The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said the ‘most important food group’ for nitrosamines exposure was meat.
Nitrates or nitrites are used in processed meat to help increase the shelf-life of cold cuts, and give ham its alluringly tangy taste and fresh, pink hue.
Dr Dieter Schrenk, EFSA’s chair of the panel on contaminants in the food chain, said: ‘Our assessment concludes for all age groups across the EU population, the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food raises a health concern.’
What are nitrites and nitrates?
Nitrite and nitrate are commonly used for curing meat and other perishable produce.
They are also added to meat to keep it red and give flavour.
Nitrate is also found naturally in vegetables, with the highest concentrations occurring in leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce.
It can also enter the food chain as an environmental contaminant in water, due to its use in intensive farming methods, livestock production and sewage discharge.
Nitrite in food may contribute to the formation of a group of compounds known as nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation warned there were significant increases in the risk of bowel cancer from eating processed meats such as bacon that traditionally have nitrites added as they are cured.
EFSA advised people eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods to reduce their potential consumption of nitrosamines.
The body will now officially share its opinion with European Commission, which will discuss potential ‘risk management’ measures with member states.
Such measures could, in theory, include introducing warnings on the packaging of products found to contain one or more of the 10 nitrosamines of concern.
Other potential public health initiatives, which have been touted by experts before, include a specific processed meat tax to dissuade shoppers from buying it.
Once digested, nitrosamines are broken down by the liver.
From there, they can then damage DNA, leading to mutations that can cause cancer to develop.
This is the ‘most critical health effect’, based on studies in rodents, according to Dr Schrenk.
Studies have also linked the substances to an increased risk of bowel, breast and prostate cancers.
Their use in food preparation has come under increasing investigation ever since the World Health Organization labelled processed meat carcinogenic in 2015.
Any EU ruling on nitrogen based preservatives could bolster calls for the UK to take action, with an estimated 90 per cent of bacon sold in supermarkets containing the substances.
But some nations in the bloc have already promised action.
French health bosses dealt a blow to their country’s beloved cold meat industry last year after they pledged to cut the use of nitrates and nitrites down to just ‘strictly necessary’ quantities.