France to Reduce Nitrites in Food Due to Cancer Risk

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
France nitrites

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: French Parliament bill relating to the consumption of charcuterie products containing nitro additives

Overview: France plans to reduce the use of nitrites in processed meats after the French National Agency for Sanitary Safety of Food, Environment and Labor (ANSES) confirmed that consumption of these additives is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.  

Location: France

Population: 65.6 million

Food policy category: Nutrition, food safety, preventive health

Program goals: To reduce the risk of colorectal cancer associated with nitrite consumption. 

How it works: Nitrites are used to prolong the shelf life of processed meats and to limit the development of bacteria that can cause salmonellosis, listeriosis, and botulism. ANSES recommends reducing the use of nitrites to the lowest levels possible while maintaining other measures to reduce the risk of bacteria growth. The agency also recommends limiting the consumption of processed meats to 150 grams (5.3 ounces) per week.  

A specific plan for the reduction or elimination of nitrites in processed meats has not yet been released but will be finalized within the next 12 months.

Progress to date: The French parliament approved a bill in February 2022 that proposed a gradual reduction in nitrite use in cured meats and called for a review of the potential health effects of nitrite consumption. The review, conducted by ANSES and published on July 12, 2022, confirmed the World Health Organization’s 2015 findings that nitrite and nitrate consumption is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.  

Why it is important: It has been confirmed that the consumption of nitrites increases the risk of colorectal cancer, and it is suspected that it increases the risk of other cancers, as well. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer worldwide and accounts for 10 percent of all cancer cases in France.

The popularity of charcuterie in France has led to consumption of processed meats in quantities almost double what ANSES recommends. A reduction in nitrite use in processed meats, along with limiting consumption of these foods, will be beneficial to human health.  

Program/Policy initiated: The French government will present parliament with a plan to reduce or eliminate the use of nitrites in processed meats in the fall of 2022. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: A coalition in the United Kingdom is advocating for an outright ban on the use of nitrites in bacon and ham. 

Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been conducted. 

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