Nitrites and nitrates in pet food and in human food

Nitrites and nitrates are in some human foods and in pet foods and they are carcinogenic

In France, nitrites and nitrates are allowed in human food but are disallowed in pet food which has outraged many members of the public.

In America, the Pet Food Safety Law caps permissible nitrite levels at hundred parts per million in pet food but the Association of American Feed Control Officials has published a recommended standard of up to a maximum of 20 ppm.

The Times reports, today, on French members of Parliament calling for a ban on preservatives specifically nitrites and nitrates which continue to be used in processed meats such as bacon and ham despite being banned in pet food in that country.

Nitrites and nitrates are linked to cancer. They are used in many cold meats and cheeses. They make ham and bacon look pinker.

The manufacturers say that the additives help to protect against botulism, listeria and salmonella. But critics say that you can protect against those contaminants by reducing shelf lives.

In the European Union, there is an intention to phase out the use of nitrates in pet foods by 2025 because of their proven links to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Clearly, some EU countries allow these additives while the French appear to be ahead in terms of pet welfare in this regard.

Some French members of Parliament have demanded a blanket ban on nitrites and nitrates in all foods whether they be for companion animals or people.

And I’m told by The Times that the reason why there is this discrepancy is because the manufacturers have effectively lobbied the French government to convince them not to ban these additives in human food whereas the pet food manufacturers didn’t lobby the government in the same way which allowed a clear path for the government to ban them.

One MP, Richard Ramos, believes that the better off are protected against these dangerous additives because they can buy food without nitrites whereas the less well-off more vulnerable to them because they have less choice.

Companion animals are also particularly vulnerable to these additives because, where they are allowed, all pet food has them and therefore cats and dogs are fed exclusively on industry produce pet foods containing nitrites.

Macon’s government has pledged to limit the use of these additives in all foodstuffs after he was warned of the significant risks.

The food manufacturers have minimised the health risks of nitrites and nitrates. However, the World Health Organisation classified processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans” in 2015.

In the UK, about 90% of bacon sold contains nitrates. Research in the UK has linked nitrites with cancer of the colon, bowel, prostate and breast.

In 2022, Queen’s University Belfast’s scientists urged the British government to ban their use in food.

The Food Standards Agency in the UK advises that “existing levels of nitrites and nitrates are sufficiently protective for consumers”. It adds that: “Processed meat, whether produced with the use of nitrites and nitrates or without, can form part of [a] varied and balanced diet when consumed within current NHS guidelines”. Comment: it appears that the UK government has also been lobbied by the manufacturers. Notwithstanding, the NHS recommendations are that people should limit consumption of these foods to 70 g or less per day.

However, the World Health Organisation says that if we eat 50 g of these processed meats each day it increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18%.

Nitrates are listed as E249 and the 250 in labelling. Nitrates are labelled as E251 and E252.

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