Govt to Impose Rules for Nitrate in Sausages and Ham

DENMARK - The Danish government will maintain Denmark's stricter rules for using the additive nitrite in meat products. Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Eva Kjer Hansen has told the EU Commission that she still finds the low Danish threshold value for nitrite in meat products such as sausages and ham justifiable.
calendar icon 30 November 2009
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By referring to the EU's “environmental guarantee” in the treaty’s article 95, Denmark has previously been given the green light by the EU Commission to keep the national Danish rules for nitrite, but the temporary permission expires in the spring 2010. Minister for Food, Eva Kjer Hansen, has consequently approached the EU Commission for permission to maintain these rules.

“Changing to the common EU regulations would mean a considerable increase in Danes' consumption of nitrite and thereby also of nitrosamines, which is a risk to people's health,” says Eva Kjer Hansen. “Therefore I want Denmark to be able to maintain our own rules and our high level of protection, which reflects the scientific opinion on the use of nitrates in meat products”. Eva Kjer Hansen adds that the stricter Danish rules are not an obstacle to trade between Denmark and the rest of the EU.


Denmark's special rules

When in 1995 the EU adopted a food additive directive including regulations for nitrite in meat products, the quantities allowed were far higher than permitted under the Danish rules, which had been in force for many years. By using the “environmental guarantee” in the EU Treaty, Denmark tried to uphold its rules. This was rejected by the EU Commission, but the ruling was referred to the European Court of Justice, where Denmark won. Following this judgement, the EU brought its regulations closer to the Danish rules, but still did not respect the scientific assessments of the use of nitrite, which is a key issue for Denmark This outcome was not satisfactory for Denmark, which was subsequently granted temporary permission by the Commission to uphold its national rules. Denmark is now resubmitting documentation underlining the need for retaining the Danish practice for nitrite in meat products.


Nitrite is added to e.g. sausages, and hams and other meat products to preserve these products and keep the free from dangerous bacteria. Among the aims are preventing botulism, a dangerous food poison. It is important to use the smallest possible amount of nitrite as a preservative because nitrite in meat can also form nitrosamines, which can damage the health. The Technical University of Denmark, the National Food Institute and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) all classify nitrosamines as carcinogens – cancer-inducing substances.

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