The expected report from ANSES, the National Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety Agency, published on Tuesday, leaves no doubt: nitrite additives expose consumers to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. These additives, widely used in charcuterie, help extend the shelf life of products and also give the otherwise gray ham its pink color.
A battle over nitrites is brewing in the Assembly
A few hours after the publication of this report, the government announced a ” action plan “ aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of nitrite additives “in all food products where possible without health impact”. For MP Richard Ramos (Modem), it is the culmination of a lifelong struggle. The former food critic had been fighting since 2019 to ban the presence of nitrite additives in charcuterie. He reacts to the publication of the ANSES report in an interview with “Obs”.
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You have been leading this fight against nitrites for a long time. Are you satisfied with this report?
Yes very. It’s a fight we’ve been fighting for a long time, which is mine, and it was also that of Axel Kahn, former president of the League against Cancer, who died almost a year ago to the day. This report clearly states that eating charcuterie with nitrite salt in it kills the French. We can only be happy with this postulate which has finally been written by ANSES.
Axel Kahn: “It doesn’t matter that I die, because I lived well”
Reduction in the use of these additives, total ban… What awaits the consumer?
The Ministry of Agriculture issued a press release in which it says that it will very quickly begin an action plan, for the fall; fall is tomorrow. Following that, the roadmap is prohibition. It is stated in the press release that the solutions will range from prohibition to reduction when prohibition is not possible. We will support the Ministry of Agriculture in its approach and we will ensure that all the players are represented, not only the players in the sector, but also consumers, the League against cancer, and so on. It is a beautiful and great victory.
Nitrite additives are used to give charcuterie its pink color, but also to preserve the products and prevent the development of dangerous bacteria. Will we still be able to eat charcuterie?
Today, the French go to a supermarket, they go to their butcher and they see nitrite-free everywhere, everywhere! Fleury Michon, Herta, Super U, Carrefour, Auchan, Biocoop… the major brands all present nitrite-free products. Has there been a return of botulism or salmonellosis? The answer is no, and millions of slices are eaten. Parma ham has no nitrite, good Corsican charcuterie has no nitrites, and so that means it’s all nonsense. All this is for manufacturers who want to bring two product lines to life: one for sores with nitrite-free, and another with nitrites for the poor, who would have the right to take the risk of dying. While the additional cost of the slice without nitrites is two cents, we charge up to 40 cents per slice without nitrites today.
These chefs who have their own farm
What does this report change for producers?
Nothing changes for the producer, who is the pig breeder. He still raises his pig. Afterwards for the one who transforms, that is to say the industrialist, there will be about two cents of additional cost on the slice of ham… okay. But we are really saying that it kills. Nitrite in charcuterie kills! The question isn’t “am I eating a little less salt?”, it’s “are we able to put two cents more per slice of ham so as not to die?” The answer seems obvious to me.
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Cancer risk, industries… All this almost reminds of the tobacco industry
Yes. Nitrites are a bit like tobacco. If you lower the dose of tobacco, you lower the risk of dying, but you can still die. The only way not to die from tobacco consumption is not to smoke. However, the parliament, in its new political composition, will always try to protect the consumer.
Interview by Mariana Abreu