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Eat this, Frenchies, there’ll be no more pink ham for you

Lifestyle

Eat this, Frenchies, there’ll be no more pink ham for you

France is set to cut the use of nitrite in cured meats. The compound gives boiled ham its colour

Geert De Clercq
Under existing French and European legislation nitrites are deemed safe additives.
TUCKING IN TO CARCINOGENS? Under existing French and European legislation nitrites are deemed safe additives.
Image: 123RF/fudio

The French parliament has approved a bill that aims to gradually reduce the use of nitrite in cured meats and has ordered a review of the potential health risks by the end of June.

Nitrite salts, widely used in cured meats such as ham, bacon and sausages, extend the shelf life of processed meats and give boiled ham its pink colour.

But a 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) report classified processed meat as carcinogenic because curing — by adding nitrates or nitrites, or by smoking — can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

Proposed by an MP of the Modem party, part of president Emmanuel Macron’s ruling coalition, the new bill stops short of an outright ban from 2023, but has set a timetable for reducing use of nitrite.

National health agency Anses will publish a report about the health risks of nitrite by the end of June, after which the government will have 12 months to outline a trajectory for reducing or phasing out the preservative.

Even if this law delays a decision on the issue, it commits government and parliament to take decisions in coming months.
Yuka, French anti-cancer league and Foodwatch

Implementation of the new law will fall to a new government after presidential elections in April.

“Even if this law delays a decision on the issue, it commits government and parliament to take decisions in coming months,” said French food quality app Yuka, the French anti-cancer league and NGO Foodwatch.

Fabien Castanier, director of cured meat industry federation FICT, said his group welcomed any decision based on a scientific report.

He said nitrites are deemed safe additives under French and European legislation and that the French charcuterie industry already uses less nitrite — about 110mg/kg compared with the 150mg/kg allowed by EU rules.

Now, 90% of all cured meats include nitrites, but some big firms are experimenting with nitrite-free products, Castanier said.

However, he said the nearly 300 small to medium-size companies in the sector will struggle to manufacture their products without the use of nitrites as lack of the preservative will reduce shelf life and increase the risk of bacterial infection.

— Reuters

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