French food safety agency confirms link between nitrates from meat and risk of cancer

French food safety agency confirms link between nitrates from meat and risk of cancer. Image: Alexander Raths/

THE French health National Food Safety Agency (ANSES) confirmed “the existence of an association between the risk of colorectal cancer and exposure to nitrates and nitrites”, particularly via processed meat.

After several months of work, ANSES stated on Tuesday, July 12, that the analysis of data from scientific publications on the subject of nitrates from meat “is consistent with the classification of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)”.

The IARC of the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified processed meat, in particular cold cuts, as a carcinogen (category 1) back in 2015.

Data showed that there was a risk of colorectal cancer, which kills nearly 18,000 people a year in France. Ingested nitrites are considered probable carcinogens (category 2A).

The French health authority “recommends reducing the population’s exposure to nitrates and nitrites through voluntary measures by limiting dietary exposure.”

France’s National Food Safety Agency said that “historically, pork butchers have used nitrates to extend the shelf life of their products and prevent the development of pathogenic bacteria that cause botulism, a serious neurological disease that has been largely forgotten due to advances in health.”

“It is also these components that give ham, which is naturally grey, its pink colour,” the agency said.

While major manufacturers such as Herta and Fleury Michon have already launched “nitrite-free” ham ranges, the agency warned against substitutes based on “vegetable extracts” or “vegetable broths”.

“This does not constitute a real alternative insofar as (these substitutes) naturally contain nitrates which, under the effect of bacteria, are converted into nitrites,” they said.

“These products called ‘no added nitrite’ or ‘zero nitrite’ therefore contain hidden nitrates and nitrites”, the agency underlined.

Back in February, France’s National Assembly voted to reduce the maximum doses of nitrate additives in charcuterie – a French term for a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork.

The French government advised at the time that they wanted to “wait for the return” of the ANSES data before implementing any measures and that it would “follow the opinion” of the agency.

ANSES stated on Tuesday, July 12 that further research was needed, including the launch of new epidemiological studies to improve knowledge of the link with the risk of various cancers.

In the meantime, the French agency advised citizens to limit their consumption of charcuterie to 150 grams per week and recommended a diverse diet, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

In the UK, meat-eaters could be at risk of the deadly superbug after traces of it were found in supermarket products, according to a recent investigation.

The investigation discovered that some British pork had been infected with enterococci bacteria which in serious cases, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream infecting it and impacting both the heart and brain.

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Written by

Matthew Roscoe

Originally from the UK, Matthew is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at