Common sense prevails on cured meats

Date Published: 27/01/2011

The European Commission will not move to ban the use of nitrates and nitrites in the processing of organic cured meats, it was revealed today.

The issue had been under discussion for more than two years, with the aim of taking sodium nitrite and potassium nitrate out of the list of permitted additives for use in organic products.

As a leading UK organic control body, Organic Farmers & Growers has welcomed an announcement that the issue has been taken off the table for the next three to five years.

There has been great concern within the organic sector that no safe alternative to nitrate and nitrites for curing meats was available.

Apparently ‘natural’ alternatives, such as celery juice, had been suggested as possible replacements, but all of the relevant research maintained that such methods were harder to control for reliable food safety, and would be unlikely to be approved by regulators. Without proper, consistent curing those eating the meat could be at risk from botulism and listeriosis – both potentially fatal illnesses.

Nitrates and nitrites are used across the meat curing industry, both for their food safety benefits and their contribution to the taste and appearance of the products, for instance giving bacon its pink colour.

Chief Executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, Richard Jacobs, said: “There was a serious food safety issue here. While we prefer to see as few additives as possible in organic products, safety must come first and unless a proven alternative can be found, sodium nitrite and potassium nitrate will have to remain available to those curing organic meat.

“The most likely outcome of their loss would have been the collapse of the market for organic bacon and related products, as many processors may have come down on the side of caution and abandoned product lines they could not be confident in producing safely. Nor does it seem likely that many shoppers would be willing to accept a change to a rather unappetising-looking, greyish product! So in that regard, this is some rare good news for the organic sector in these economically challenging times.”

The European Commission does retain the ability to remove any additive from the list of those permitted at any time, but does not envisage revisiting this issue for three to five years, according to Defra, unless new, proven alternatives can be found.