Prepared Foods October 18, 2004 enewsletter

The European Commission has proposed reducing the level of chemicals in cured meat and sausages. The proposal is contained in a series of measures designed to tighten the use of additives.

Nitrites and nitrates, in effect a type of salt, are added to meat to preserve it and stop the growth of harmful bacteria, but the chemicals have been linked with cancer -- nitrites are most commonly found in cured meat products, such as bacon and ham.

"We are aiming to reduce the use of nitrites and nitrates in meat products while still guaranteeing the safety of these products," EU Health and Consumer Protection commissioner David Byrne said in a statement.

EU governments and the European Parliament have to agree the proposal before it can be adopted.

The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) welcomed the proposals. BEUC food policy advisor Beate Kettlitz said they had campaigned for a reduction in nitrate levels for the past two years.

"We are waiting for the commission to revise the overall legislation," she said. "We would like all food additives to have a maximum 10-year authorization." Under the current system, food additives are sold for an indefinite period though they are regularly tested.

A report by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in 2002 on food additives found that more than half of EU-approved additives were used in foods in the Irish diet. Of the 311 additives labeled with E numbers, 162 were found in foods consumed there.

The European Commission indicated it wants to ban the food additive used to make jelly mini-cups, which carry a choking risk for toddlers. The import of mini-cups has already been halted in member-states.

It is also proposing to ban the use of the synthetic preservative propyl paraben, used in the jelly coating of pate and sweets.

The chemical has been found to reduce sperm production in male rats. Parabens are widely used in deodorants and antiperspirants, where studies have highlighted a breast cancer risk for women.

The commission is proposing to allow four new food additives to be used in the EU -- ethyl cellulose, erythritol, 4-hexyl resorcinol and soybean hemicellulose.

Four-hexyl resorcinol will be used to stop black spots on frozen shell fish, and erythritol will be used as a flavor enhancer in yogurts and dairy products.