The Standard American Diet isn’t exactly famous for being a healthy one. Often this is in reference to the excessive amount of sugar, salt, and fat in everyday American food products. However, these are the only aspects of this diet that we should be concerned about. American food products are also infamous for containing certain ingredients that have been banned in other countries, particularly in the E.U. Many of these additives and ingredients have been deemed hazardous to human health.
Banned Foods in Europe That Are Still Eaten In America
Many European countries are known for having some of the planet’s most strict food quality standards. Many things get put in food in the United States that simply are not allowed in much of Europe. Here’s a list of 15 banned food additives in Europe that we continue to consume in America.
Okay, so bread itself isn’t banned. However, American bread is. This is because American bread contains some ingredients that the EU, along with other countries, have deemed unsuitable for consumption. These include potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide, which have been linked to cancer in rodents. The FDA claims that the quantity of these chemicals is not enough to affect human health. If other countries have successfully managed to make the same product without the potentially carcinogenic chemicals, then why doesn’t the United States do the same? (1)
2. Mountain Dew
Mountain Dew in America contains brominated vegetable oil (BVO). Research shows that bromine can cause skin irritation and irritation of the mucous membranes, headaches, memory loss, and problems with balance and coordination. You won’t find BVO on a Mountain Dew ingredient list in the EU and India because they have banned it.
Skittles in the United States reportedly contain artificial colors yellow 5 and yellow 6. Not only have researchers linked them to allergic reactions, but they have also linked them to hyperactivity in children. For this reason, in the EU, skittles are dyed with natural coloring agents from fruits, vegetables, and spices.
There was also a lawsuit against Skittles for including Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) in their ingredient list. The company allegedly committed to “phasing out” the chemical in 2016. However, more recent research claims that they have not done so. This substance affects your DNA and can cause cancer. France banned it in 2019 and the EU quickly followed suit. Again, the claim here is that the amount in the product is so little that it is negligible.
Milk in the United States contains the synthetic growth hormone rBGH, also known as rBST. Some milk producers use it to increase milk production in dairy cows. According to Canada and the EU, this chemical has potential adverse health effects, including cancer. While the use of this hormone is decreasing in the United States, it still exists. Look for organic milk or ones that explicitly state that they do not contain rBGH.
Just as with Skittles, American M&Ms are banned in the EU. You can still find them; however, they will look slightly different and have a different ingredient list. This is because artificial food dyes are banned in food products across the EU. European M&Ms, therefore, and dyed using natural coloring agents just as Skittles are.
You will never find chicken imported from America in the European Union. This is because they banned the product. In the United States, producers wash the chicken in chlorine before packaging it up. The EU banned this practice in 1997. The reason for the chlorine wash is to kill bacteria. According to the EU, however, there should be a high level of food safety throughout the entire production process. Washing with chlorine just means you have more relaxed safety standards until the end, where you try to “wash away” any mishaps or errors with a chemical.
The United States used synthetic hormones to promote growth in cattle used for beef. These include Zeranol, Trenbolone acetate, and Melengestrol acetate. Research shows that these chemical hormones increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Therefore, the EU has banned the use of these chemicals and beef products from the United States.
American pork producers use the drug ractopamine to make pigs grow really big, really quickly. Research has found that this drug affects the cardiovascular system and causes hyperactivity, behavioral changes, elevated heart rates, and heart-pounding sensations. The EU, Russia, China, and 157 other countries have banned its use.
9. Instant Mashed Potatoes
Europeans are known for their passion for their food and how much time they spend in food preparation. Instant mashed potatoes is something that is likely a pretty foreign concept to them. Beyond that, instant mashed potatoes in America contain Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). This is a preservative found in many food products, but also in rubber and wax food packaging. Europe, Japan, Australia, and other countries have banned it for being a potential carcinogen.
10. Sugary Breakfast Cereals
Many of the sweeter breakfast cereals in America have a lot more for you to worry about than just sugar. They also contain chemicals such as Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT). Research shows that this chemical is a possible human carcinogen, which is why much of Europe, The UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have all banned it. Apparently, however, big-name cereal companies like General Mills and Kellogg’s have pledged to find alternatives.
Why Are There Banned Foods in the EU and Not In The USA?
The biggest reason why many of these foods are banned in Europe and not in the United States is because of what their health and food regulators choose to focus on. Regarding many food additives, the EU considers possibilities, while the FDA focuses more on probability. This is to say that the EU is more cautious. If research shows that something could cause cancer or health problems, they remove it. Even though the research might only show these adverse effects in incredibly high quantities, they’d rather not take the risk. (2)
American regulators, on the other hand, note that while, yes, perhaps in large quantities, this chemical could pose a risk, the probability of one consuming enough of it is quite low. This is why the EU has banned more food products and chemicals than the USA. The US and FDA follow a risk-based approach, while the E.U. follows a hazard-based approach. You can learn more about risk vs. hazard-based approaches here.
So while in Europe, you can have a bit more confidence in a food product without reading the label, if you’re shopping in America, you may want to read it. From there, it is your decision whether or not you choose to consume those products.
- “Banned bread: why does the US allow additives that Europe says are unsafe?.” The Guardian. Troy Farah. May 28, 2019.
- “Why Are Some Food Additives That Are Banned In Europe Still Used in the U.S.?.” Everyday Health. Becky Upham. July 22, 2021.