If you think you’re doing yourself a favor by choosing organic or natural hot dogs, then you’re wrong, but thinking exactly what the United States Department of Agriculture wants you to think. Hot dogs have been the bad guy for a while because of their mysterious meat components, high saturated fat and sodium content, and preservatives. The worst part however, is that the preservatives in hot dogs, nitrates and nitrites, are linked to cancer, and the U.S.D.A. does not want consumers to know that this risk is present even when you buy the innocent-looking natural hot dog, the New York Times reported.
Even “natural” hot dogs need preservatives in order to kill botulism-causing bacteria, although they are not the synthetic nitrates found in regular hot dogs. They tend to contain celery powder and juice because they are naturally high in nitrate and turn into nitrite with the addition of a bacterial culture. In the end, they contain the same nitrite levels as conventional, cheaper hot dogs. Essentially, these nitrites are the same cancer-causing preservatives, but they come from a natural source. These hot dogs are still labeled “uncured’ or “no nitrates or nitrites added,” which are entirely misleading. Natural hot dogs and bacon can contain one-third to two times the amount of nitrites as conventionally processed meat products, as the Journal of Food Protection revealed this year. If the point of labels is to help consumers make health-conscious choices, the U.S.D.A. is not only failing to prevent misunderstandings, but is promoting them.
If a product is natural, such as Applegate Farms processed meats, the company’s must label the product as “no nitrates or nitrites added,” but then the in fine print, add that these chemicals may be “naturally occurring.” The president of Applegate Farms, Lisa Boardman, is frustrated with these rules, and knows that they are “confusing” for the consumer. She and others have proposed new labels to the U.S.D.A without success. Applegate Farms is only one of many organic and natural companies begging the U.S.D.A. to change the labeling policies so that they can accurately warn consumers about preservatives, and advertise the benefits of buying the organic versions.
The current food labeling rules show how the U.S.D.A . is failing to do its job, and enforcing labeling rules that trick consumers into buying something that is not as healthy as they believe. Grass-fed beef means that animals must have access to grass, but there are no restrictions on antibiotics, hormones, nor is it required for the animal’s diet to be 100% grass-based. “All-natural” meat means that only for the final 90 days of an animal’s life, antibiotics and hormones may not be administered. Consumers have the right to avoid ingredients they believe to be harmful, and labels need to accurately communicate what is in the product.
What do you think of food labels? Which ones are the most misleading?