RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
More and more Americans are trying to get healthy, to improve their diet, and that's why you've been seeing more labels on deli meats that say uncured or no nitrates added. But consumer groups say healthy eaters are being duped in the deli aisle. They're calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step in and change its labeling rules. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Whether it's bacon, hot dogs or sandwich meats, such as turkey and ham, that are so popular in school lunch boxes, lots of brands are labeled with healthy-sounding terms.
LINDSAY MOYER: Many of these products were looking at have a no nitrates label. They say natural. They say organic. They look like a better product.
AUBREY: That's Lindsay Moyer, a registered dietitian with the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest. The problem, she says, is that recent tests show that many of the products labeled as no nitrates added have just as many nitrates as those that don't carry these claims.
MOYER: You're getting the same nitrates and nitrites.
AUBREY: And why? Well, in order to cure meats, manufacturers have typically used a synthetic curing agent, such as sodium nitrite. But if they switch to a natural agent, such as celery powder, then the no nitrate added label is used. This may sound better, but the celery powder contains nitrates, too. And scientists think all these nitrates, regardless of the source, may lead to the formation of carcinogenic compounds in our bodies when we eat processed meats.
MOYER: That may help explain why eating these meats, over time, increases the risk of cancer.
AUBREY: So is this confusing, you think, to consumers? Do people look for these no nitrates added, thinking it's healthier?
MOYER: Absolutely. This is misleading. Many people are going out of their way to buy these meats. And the USDA should not allow claims like no nitrates when nitrates and nitrites are present.
AUBREY: Consumer groups have petitioned the USDA to change its rules, and the agency tells NPR it will review the request.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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