The meat industry has fallen victim to harsh criticism lately, being likened to tobacco in its levels of harm. Scientists warn of processed meat’s carcinogenic properties, stating that, when ingested, the nitrites used to cure meat produce carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Nitrites are used in cured products such as bacon and ham, giving them the attractive pink hue we all recognise. Nitrites are present in most bacon that is available, but some companies do sell nitrite-free bacon, using natural alternatives instead.
Processed meats have long been associated with poor health outcomes. The World Health Organisation published evidence in 2015 of a link between colorecatal cancer and consumption of processed meats in 34,000 cases annually. Furthermore, research has also identified a link between processed meat and breast cancer, whilst a 10-year study found patients who experience manic episodes were three times as likely to recently have eaten meat cured with nitrites.
A coalition of experts and politicians, including Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, has said there is evidence consumption of nitrite enriched meat results in 6,600 cases of bowel cancer in the UK annually. This equates to four times as many as die on the roads. The coalition is making calls for nitrites to be taken as seriously as sugar in the public conversation around health and food, hoping for government action to follow soon.
It seems nitrites might be the next in-vogue food health item of discussion, and we should hope to see policy changes in line with scientific evidence, which might suggest a future ban.