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Nitrates in ham and charcuterie linked to cancer: French report

One MP has already called for a ban on the additives – but some producers are less keen

A packet of charcuterie on a wooden table

Packaged charcuterie often contains nitrates, which have been linked to cancer Pic: Ilia Nesolenyi / Shutterstock

[Article updated on July 12 at 11:55]

A new scientific report from the French health agency has suggested a link between the nitrates in ham and charcuterie and the development of colon cancer.

Nitrates are a type of additive used as a preservative in certain ham and charcuterie products. These can include E249, E250, E251, and E252.

A new report from l’Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire (ANSES) has posited a link between these additives and the risk of colon cancer and has asked if there could be grounds to consider a connection between the two.

The report’s conclusions were published today (July 12), stating: "More than half of exposure to nitrates comes from the consumption of charcuterie, because of the additives used in preparing it." 

It also confirmed "the existence of an association between the risk of colorectal cancer and exposure to nitrates, whether they are ingested in processed meat or through a drink." 

Read more: Charcuterie professionals hail new proposed law cutting nitrite-levels 

Charcuterie (as processed meat and red meat) is already considered to be carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Further questions are likely to be posed following the publication of the report, including whether nitrates should be banned.

MP for Loiret, Richard Ramos, from the party Ensemble !, has already said: “Yes, there is a link between colorectal cancer and nitrates in charcuterie. This report will say that clearly. We must ban nitrates.”

However, representatives for the charcuterie industry have already mounted opposition to this idea.

Bernard Vallat, a charcuterie producer and president of the Fédération Française de Charcuterie, told FranceInfo: “Getting rid of nitrates completely would cause many traditional recipes to disappear.”

However, butchers questioned by FranceInfo said that for many years, they have already been trying to work with as few nitrates and preservatives as possible. This means that the meat dries out more quickly, but customers appear to be happy to accept this.

One said: “It’s OK, we just have to eat them more quickly. But it’s much better than the ham you might buy vacuum-packed under plastic in the supermarket.”

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