The Big Change That May Be Coming To France's Cold Cuts

Cold cuts, processed or cured meats, and charcuterie – from pepperoni and prosciutto to hot dogs and braseola — are wildly popular and have been for centuries. Originally created as a means of preserving meat, the iconic foods are now a standby everywhere from restaurants to holiday gatherings to delis. For many, though, one quibble about processed meats has always been their use of nitrates, which are avoided by many due to the potential increased risk of heart disease. Some companies have opted to produce nitrate-free cold cuts — such as the very popular Boar's Head — but most manufactured cold cuts are still using nitrates, including most prosciutto currently adorning charcuterie boards internationally. France, however, aims to put an end to that (per Food & Wine).

While the pros and cons of nitrate usage are still hotly debated, France is one of the first countries to consider such a ruling.  According to The Times, "pink ham" is the specific cold cut being targeted by a French bill "which aims to ban the use of nitrates in food products." Furthermore, Food & Wine states that the World Health Organization (WHO) designated processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen in 2015. Albeit some pushback from some, the Economic Affairs Committee of France's National Assembly unanimously chose to adopt the bill which would reduce — but not outright ban — the "consumption of charcuterie products containing nitro additives." 

Why are nitrates used?

Consumer Reports notes that synthetic nitrates were first used in the 1920s to preserve meats and have also been used to give these products their distinctive colors and flavors. But, nitrates may also have carcinogenic properties, via a compound called nitrosamines. In the 1990s, alternate nitrates or curing properties were created — some even using celery — but even some of the "no nitrate" cold cuts in stores today contain some type of nitrate (whether for preservation or color), and all nitrates can affect the human body in the same way. Nitrates also aren't restricted to cured beef or pork products; If you're enjoying chicken or turkey "cold cuts," those have also probably been cured with a nitrate solution. In addition, it is generally known that most cold cuts and processed meats also contain a high amount of sodium. So generally, restricting your consumption of processed meats is almost always best.

Conversely, BBC notes that the nitrate debate is a bit more nuanced than originally thought, stating that some vegetable-derived nitrates can actually be very beneficial for the body. The final decision of whether the measure will go through won't be made until at least June, though, when France's National Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) releases their findings about the production in a report (via Food & Wine).