Action urged over nitrates in school food

Written by: Greg Lewis | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Welsh government has given a commitment to look again at the quality of school dinners as concerns rise that cancer-causing chemicals are on the menu.

Conservative and Labour MPs are calling for a ban on meat containing nitrites being served to pupils. Nitrites, which are often found in processed meats such as cooked ham, bacon, hot dogs, gammon and corned beef, produce nitrosamines – chemicals which can cause certain cancers.

Despite this, only two Welsh councils, Powys and Ceredigion, have eliminated nitrites from their school menus.

The Welsh government says that it follows the guidance given by the Food Standards Agency and its advice is that the levels of nitrites are safe.

However, it has agreed to review the nutritional standards of food in schools. Traditionally, the chemicals were added to protect against the life-threatening condition botulism.

In 2015, the World Health Organisation linked 34,000 cases of bowel cancer every year to the consumption of nitrite-cured processed meats.

Albert Owen, Labour MP for Ynys Môn, said: “It is concerning that schools across Wales are feeding nitrite-cured meat to pupils, despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that has linked these chemicals to colorectal cancer. I am urging the Welsh government and Welsh councils to take immediate action and remove nitrites from school menus.”

David TC Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouthshire and chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, added: “Given there are now safer nitrite-free alternatives available that taste the same and cost the same, we should urgently investigate how we now remove nitrites from school menus.”

The pressure on the Welsh government to eliminate nitrites from processed meat has picked up a pace following a campaign in Scotland to remove nitrite-cured meat from school and hospital menus. Scottish education secretary John Swinney announced a crackdown on nitrite-cured meat in schools this summer.

Meanwhile, in January this year, a group of MPs and doctors called on the UK government to launch a public awareness campaign – similar to the war on sugar and fatty foods – to raise awareness of the risks of nitrites.

In response, a Welsh government spokesman said: “We receive advice on food safety from the Food Standards Agency, the independent government department for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FSA has given assurance that existing levels of nitrites added to meat and other foods are safe and undergo a robust safety assessment prior to being authorised for use. We plan to revise our nutritional standards and requirements for food in schools in the near future and will ensure we take into account the latest scientific advice.”


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