We will have to decide: a parliamentary report presented on Wednesday recommends the gradual ban by 2025 of nitrites, these controversial additives used in cold meats to extend their shelf life, but suspected of promoting the appearance of certain cancers.
In their argument, the authors of the report, which AFP was able to consult, rely on the hearings of scientists, foremost among them Professor Axel Kahn, president of the League against cancer.
During the hearings, Axel Kahn estimated that “the fact of treating deli meats with nitrites seems to be positively correlated” with an increase in the carcinogenic nature of meat, a thesis strongly contested by industry.
Based on these expertises, the report recommends in the first place to “prohibit the use of nitrated additives in charcuterie from January 1, 2023 for non heat-treated meat products”, such as raw ham, and “from 1 January 2025 for all charcuterie products”, including cooked ham, therefore.
“There was already a strong scientific consensus on the subject of added nitrites. There is now a political will to ban them, reacted Benoît Martin, co-founder of the popular nutritional application Yuka, who praised, with the NGO Foodwatch and the League Against Cancer, the publication of this report.
“This ban, which requires a real transition of the sector, must be accompanied by the public authorities, in particular on the financial level”, however believe the authors of the report, the Modem deputy of Loiret Richard Ramos, longtime opponent of nitrite additives , and her colleagues Barbara Bessot-Ballot (LREM) and Michèle Crouzet (UDI).
Hence the recommendation to support this transition “by setting up a public fund intended to support the adaptation of the production tools of processors”, in particular craftsmen, VSEs and SMEs.
“About 76% of the charcuterie put on the market in supermarkets would contain nitrates or nitrites”, indicates the report, whose recommendations inspired the tabling by the deputy Ramos of a bill. His review date has yet to be set, he said.
The ban on nitrites “would have health consequences that it would be difficult to measure”, assured AFP the president of the interprofession (Fict), Bernard Vallat.
The potential resurgence of cases of botulism and other microbes is in particular regularly put forward by manufacturers in their defense arguments. A “red rag”, according to the report, which believes that it is “the improvement of sanitary conditions and hygiene protocols throughout the production chain” which has made it possible “to reduce this threat until its virtual eradication “.
– Volume and margin –
Another argument put forward by manufacturers is the risk that the removal of these additives would pose to the taste, given the increased risk of oxidation, that is to say the deterioration of hams and sausages in contact with oxygen.
Other additives exist, “but have a reduced shelf life, require more salt, and have higher production costs,” Vallat told AFP.
Industrialists and parliamentarians meet step by step in this trench warfare: according to the report, in addition to the pink color that nitrites give to ham, anchored in the consumer’s mind as a guarantee of freshness, these additives make it possible to use meat of lower quality.
While some manufacturers have successfully launched ranges without nitrites, manufacturers “have an interest, from a marketing and financial point of view, in making the two ranges last: one produces volume with less margin, the other makes less volume and more margin, “Richard Ramos told AFP.
Charcuterie professionals plead for parliamentarians to wait for the publication of an opinion from ANSES (health security agency) mandated by the government in June before taking up the issue.
During his hearing in November by the parliamentary mission which gave substance to the report, the Minister of Agriculture and Food himself had expressed his embarrassment in resolving this complex debate: “On the question of nitrite salts (…) I am going to tell you clearly my position, it is that at the moment I speak to you, I do not know “, declared Julien Denormandie, who had clearly expressed the wish to wait for the verdict ANSES.