HC Deb 10 June 2002 vol 386 cc1093-4W
Mr. Jim Murphy

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made about possible links between the use of chemicals in vegetables and cancer of the oesophagus. [58158]

Ms Blears

Reports of links between chemicals in vegetables and cancer of the oesophagus relate to speculation concerning possible effects of nitrate. I am informed that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is aware of the scientific developments in this area and is investigating the matter.

Vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables, contain the highest concentrations of nitrate in the diet. Although some of this nitrate comes from the use of conventional and organic nitrogen fertilisers on crops most is naturally occurring. Low light intensity during the growing period is the main influence on nitrate concentrations in plant tissue.

Many studies have investigated the possibility of a link between nitrate and cancer, but these have failed to provide convincing evidence that nitrate intake in the UK causes cancer. A new study by Professor McColl at the University of Glasgow has speculated on a possible association with oesophageal cancer in Scotland. The FSA agree with Professor McColl that the results are preliminary and require further investigation. Other areas of the United Kingdom with high nitrate intakes do not show similar high levels of the oesophageal cancer reported in Scotland. There is also new evidence available which suggests that dietary nitrate has beneficial effects. The FSA has commissioned a three-year project to characterise the potential benefits versus possible toxicity to humans from nitrate in the diet. The results of this work will be available later this year.

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