Led by Professor Chris Elliott, the food scientist who ran the UK government’s investigation into the horse-meat scandal, and Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, a coalition of scientific and medical experts and politicians claims there is a “consensus of scientific opinion” that the nitrites used to cure meats produce carcinogens called nitrosamines when ingested.

It says there is evidence that consumption of processed meats containing these chemicals results in 6,600 bowel cancer cases every year in the UK – four times the fatalities on British roads – and is campaigning for the issue to be taken as seriously as sugar levels in food.

On December 30th 2018 the coalition issues a statement

not enough is being done to raise awareness of nitrites in our processed meat and their health risks, in stark contrast to warnings regularly issued regarding sugar and fattening foods.

In 2015 a report by the World Health Organisation linked the consumption of processed meat products to 34,000 cases of bowel cancer worldwide, identifying nitrites and nitrosamines as the cause. The report concluded that processed meat should be classified a category one carcinogen - carcinogenic to humans.

Industry spokespeople have stated that nitrites are essential to tackle botulism and infection but Professor Elliot and Dr Malhotra cited the production of Parma ham which has not used nitrites for the last 25 years.

What is processed meat?

Processed meat has been smoked, cured or preserved with salt or chemicals. Processed meats include bacon, salami, chorizo, corned beef, pepperoni, pastrami, hot dogs and all types of ham. Some sausages are also considered processed meat.

You can find more information on lifestyle, health and bowel disease on our lifestyle pages.