02 Jan 2019 --- The UK government must raise awareness on the carcinogenic dangers of processed meats to the public, as well as support nitrite-free alternatives, UK food scientists, an NHS doctor and several members of parliament have said in a joint statement. Nitrites used to cure bacon and ham create nitrosamines when cooked, which have been proven to be carcinogenic, according to Senior Cardiologist Aseem Malhotra.
In light of UK government health campaigns on reducing sugar and banning junk food advertisements, the group requests similar action be taken regarding processed meats.
The group cites “a growing consensus of scientific opinion” that nitrites in processed meats result in the production of carcinogenic nitrosamines, which are believed to be responsible for bowel cancer.
According to a 2015 report by the World Health Organisation, processed meats are classed as a group one carcinogen, which could cause an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year. New analysis suggests this could equate to 6,600 bowel cancer cases in the UK annually.
Doctor Malhotra is joined in this action by the Director of the Queen’s University Belfast Institute for Global Food Safety Professor Chris Elliott; leading nutritionist Chris Gill of the University of Ulster; and politicians including Labour‘s deputy leader Tom Watson; conservative MP Sir David Amess; Commons Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh; the Vice-Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer and Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Walmsley; Conservative MEP John Proctor, a member of the European Parliament food safety committee; and the Chair of the Cancer Fund for Children, Wendy McCulla.
The expert group says that: “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.”
“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,” the group adds.
“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 group concludes.
Despite the evidence pointing to carcinogens in processed meats, there is little action on the matter and the businesses involved claim that the risk is negligible. Dr. Malhotra says the failure to act on evidence of the harm from nitrites risked comparisons with the tobacco industry‘s past refusal to accept the dangers posed by cigarettes.
“The meat industry must act fast, act now or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco,” Malhotra says. He also rejects the idea that nitrites are essential for meat preservation, pointing to the elimination of the chemicals from Parma ham production and the use of alternative natural processes by producers including Nestlé in France and Finnebrogue in the UK.
Kerry McCarthy, a former Labour party environment spokesperson and member of the group is urging the government to“look closely at what it can be doing to raise awareness of the risks from these chemicals and persuade the food industry to make its bacon and ham safer.”
“These chemicals do not have to be in our food and in years to come I am sure we will look back in disbelief that we allowed their use for so long,” she says.
Additionally, a study from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that processed meats may increase the risk of manic episodes. An analysis of more than 1,000 people with and without psychiatric disorders has shown that nitrites – chemicals used to cure meats such as beef jerky, salami, hot dogs and other processed meat snacks – may contribute to mania, an abnormal mood state.
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