Confirmed link between nitrites and cancer risk, according to the French health agency

Confirmed link between nitrites and cancer risk, according to the French health agency

UPDATE DAY

The French health authorities confirm “the existence of an association between the risk of colorectal cancer and exposure to nitrates and nitrites”, in particular via processed meat, in an opinion published on Tuesday which recommends reduce exposure to nitrites in the diet. 

French health authorities confirm “the existence of an association between the risk of colorectal cancer and exposure to nitrates and nitrites”, in particular via processed meat, in an opinion published on Tuesday which recommends reducing exposure to nitrites in food.

The National Food Safety Agency (ANSES) states that the analysis of data from scientific publications published on the subject “joins the classification of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

In 2015, the IARC of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat, including cold cuts, as carcinogenic (category 1). It would promote, among other things, colorectal cancers which kill nearly 18,000 people a year in France. Ingested nitrites are considered probable carcinogens (category 2A).

ANSES “recommends reducing the exposure of the population to nitrates and nitrites by proactive measures by limiting exposure through food”.

Historically, butchers have used nitrated components to extend the shelf life of products and prevent the development of pathogenic bacteria that cause botulism in particular, a serious neurological condition that has been largely forgotten due to health progress. These are also the components that give the ham its pink color, which is naturally grey.

“Although the reduction in the level of additive is likely to significantly increase the microbiological risk” – and therefore the development of diseases such as salmonellosis, listeriosis or botulism -, ANSES “considers that it can be envisaged through the implementation of validated compensatory measures to control this risk”.

For example, by shortening the use-by dates of products or by acting at the level of the manufacturing stages (bioprotection measures in the farms and slaughterhouses).

The Foodwatch association, the League against cancer and the Yuka application immediately asked the public authorities “to ban these additives”: “Faced with scientific facts, political actors must take their responsibilities”, according to a joint press release.< /p>

“Hidden Nitrites”

This winter in France, fierce debates opposed butchers, who defend a century-old know-how in compliance with the law , consumer associations and the League Against Cancer, which plead for the outright banning of controversial additives.

In February, the National Assembly voted the principle of a “trajectory of reduction” of the maximum doses of nitro additives in charcuterie.

For its part, the government had said that it wanted to “wait for the return from ANSES and had undertaken to “follow the advice” of the agency.

While major manufacturers, such as Herta or Fleury Michon, have already launched ranges of “nitrite-free” ham, the agency warns against substitute solutions based on “plant extracts” or “broths of vegetables”: “this does not constitute a real alternative insofar as (these substituents) naturally contain nitrates which, under the effect of bacteria, are converted into nitrites”.

“These so-called + without added nitrite+ or +zero nitrite+ therefore contain hidden nitrates and nitrites”, emphasizes the agency.

ANSES also considers it important to better define the “acceptable daily intakes” (ADI) of nitrates and nitrites.

Because she notes a paradox: the existence of a link between the consumption of processed meats and the risk of cancer, even though the maximum recommended doses (150 grams of charcuterie per week in France) are respected (by 99% of the population) .

The ADIs are “defined separately for each of these substances, whereas the biochemical mechanisms involved constitute a series of transformations towards nitrosated compounds”, underlines the opinion.

Clearly: nitrates, naturally present in soils, can see their concentration increased by agricultural activities (fertilizers, livestock effluents). They are found in the plants we eat and the water we drink.

In our mouth, under the effect of bacterial enzymes, ingested nitrates are transformed into nitrites. And the latter, which are unstable, can, when they are present in excess, generate the formation of “nitrosated compounds”, “known for their genotoxic and carcinogenic nature”.

ANSES therefore recommends continuing research , to “establish the toxicological reference value taking into account co-exposure” to additives, but also to launch new epidemiological studies to improve knowledge of the link with the risk of various cancers.

En meanwhile, the French agency advises to limit its consumption of charcuterie to 150 grams per week and calls for a diversified diet, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.