‘Vast majority’ of bacon contains cancer-causing chemicals
Campaigners are urging the government to do more to rid the cancer risk from processed meats such as bacon and ham.
They say there is a “growing consensus of scientific opinion” that nitrites in processed meats result in carcinogenic nitrosamines – believed to be responsible for bowel cancer.
Nitrites are added to cure the meats – helping preserve them and enhancing the colour and flavour.
A 2015 World Health Organisation report classed processed meats as a group one carcinogen that could cause an additional 34,000 cancer deaths a year.
That could equate to 6,600 bowel cancer cases ever year in the UK, according to new analysis.
A top NHS doctor and a senior food scientist have now joined politicians, including Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, to call for action.
“There is a consensus of scientific opinion that nitrites in processed meats result in the production of carcinogenic nitrosamines – and therefore increase cancer risk for those who regularly consume traditional bacon and ham,” they said.
“For these reasons, we are concerned that not enough is being done to raise awareness of nitrites in our processed meat and their health risks, in stark contrast to warnings regularly issued regarding sugar and fattening foods.
“A united and active front is needed from policy-makers, the food industry and the cancer-care community.
“We must work together to raise awareness of their risks and encourage the much wider use of nitrite-free alternatives that are safer and can reduce the number of cancer cases.”
The warning comes from director of the Queen’s University Belfast Institute for Global Food Safety, Professor Chris Elliott; senior cardiologist Aseem Malhotra; and leading nutritionist Chris Gill of the University of Ulster.
Dr Malhotra said there was a failure to act on evidence that nitrites are harmful.
“The vast majority of bacon on sale today still contains these dangerous carcinogens,” he said.
“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.
“Government action to remove nitrites from processed meats should not be far away. Nor can a day of reckoning for those who continue to dispute the incontrovertible facts.
“The meat industry must act fast, act now – or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco.”
Dr Malhotra said nitrites were not essential to preserve processed meats and had been eliminated from Parma ham production, while some producers such as Nestle in France were using alternative natural processes.
Others backing the call for action include chair of the parliamentary group on food and health, Conservative MP Sir David Amess, and chair of the Commons environmental audit committee Mary Creagh.