When TIME busted out it’s iconic frowning bacon cover in 1984, the story on bacon was mostly about the ill effects of cholesterol. However, further research since then has lead to the World Health Organization’s announcement that the International Agency for Research on Cancer now considers processed meats as carcinogenic.
Although the report did not contain any solid evidence for what is responsible for the bridge, researchers have been leaning on nitrites and nitrates as the main suspect for quite some time.
During the 70s Ralph Nader charged the Department of Agriculture with prioritizing the cause of agricultural business over its requirements to serve and protect the health and wellness of its citizens. This includes the topic of the several unmentioned chemicals used to preserve the meats that the consumers were unaware of. The issue is that the residual presence of these unseen chemicals stays in the meat protein, which then endangers the ingesting consumers. Nitrate and nitrites are naturally found in some vegetables and yes, in bacon. They are added to foods to act as preservatives and are not to be taken in excess and can be very toxic under the wrong circumstances. Nitrates are made up of the same compounds as nitrites, however, with one more oxygen atom. They are used interchangeably. Nitrates turn into nitrites as they are metabolized into the body via bacteria in the mouth or digestive enzymes.
In 1978 the U.S. Assistant Agriculture Secretary for Food and Consumption Services warranted a reduction of nitrite levels in food, in particular to bacon, as they had reason to believe that there was a connection between the preservatives and cancer. TIME later explains, that was the same year that an M.I.T. scientist had discovered that the rats with higher nitrite content in their blood and diet would contract lymphatic cancer twice as fast as the other rats in under observation. Big Meat sues to try and stop the distribution of nitrite rich contaminated meats, scared that it would result in an onslaught of food-poisoning cases, ultimately leading to lower sales and a rise in costs.
In 1980, nitrite supporters won the case. TIME came out with a report that September about how sodium nitrite was in $14.5 billion worth of food annually, for bacterial growth prevention and protein color preservation, as well as a government funded cancer study that was inconclusive.
The research team found some cell irregularities and malfunctions had been misconstrued as cancer and cancer lesions from a type that only occurs in rats, however, found human tests again inconclusive. The results found had the USDA and FDA in agreement with the pro-nitrites.
Big Food was relieved by the choices of the regulatory organizations despite the possibly unhealthy effects.
While in the process of cooking or digesting, the compounds can bind onto other chemicals to make nitrosamines, which were proven to cause cancer in lab tested animals. Several consumer groups are still in the battle for a nitrite free existence, maintaining that the full repercussions of excessive nitrite intake are still inconclusive and that the chemical is uncalled for and are of no use. Government stated that ongoing research into the potential carcinogenic variables of preservatives was being had.
In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences put out a report advocating lesser intake of pickled, cured, and smoked foods that might aid in the lowering chances of some cancers.
Meanwhile, the new WHO report is open-ended, with no conclusive results on the effects of nitrites and nitrates. One thing is for sure, is that Bacon or anything else in excess, for that matter, can lead to cancer or some other diseases, so be wary of your diet. Balance and awareness are the best weapons against bad health and diseases like cancer.