These Food Additives Banned in Europe Are Still Allowed in U.S. Foods

3 min read

From cherry-colored candy and neon-hued soda to the bright white flour in that hamburger bun, food additives have long held a place on American store shelves. While the European Union has taken restrictive measures to ensure that such food additives—which have been linked to cancer—don’t reach its consumers, these substances are still allowed in U.S. foods, and they are prevalent in items many Americans reach for every day.

In 1958, the U.S. passed an amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibiting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from green-lighting food additives with a link to cancer. But those that were used before the amendment passed were essentially grandfathered in, and still remain in use in the U.S.

In October 2018 as a way to begin to increase awareness and regulation in the U.S., the Center for Science in the Public Interest (with to other organizations) filed petitions and a lawsuit demanding the FDA ban six artificial flavors that have been proven to cause cancer in animals. Though the FDA is adamant these substances “do not pose a risk to public health,” according to the New York Times, it is now giving food companies a minimum of two years to stop using them in their products.

The E.U., however, continues ban potentially harmful chemicals and substances from its shelves, in personal care products and in food. In fact, companies will often reformulate their processed products without these banned ingredients in order to meet more stringent E.U. standards—while simultaneously keeping them in U.S formulations.

Additives Banned in Europe

The E.U. has banned potassium bromate and azodicarbonamide (ADA)—whitening agents and flour additives used in baked goods to help them rise higher—which is altered during baking and has been shown to cause cancer in animals tested. Also banned in the E.U. is brominated vegetable oil (BVO), used in some citrus-flavored drinks. This additive contains bromine—found in flame retardants—and has been shown in studies to accumulate in the body, and potentially cause memory loss and skin and nerve issues.

Preservatives BHA and BHT, used in many American processed foods, are believed to be carcinogenic and therefore highly restricted in the E.U. Yellow food dyes No. 5, No. 6 and red dye No. 40 are subject to warning labels in the E.U. that read, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

The E.U. has also banned drugs used to raise farm animals in the U.S., including bovine growth hormone to increase milk production, and ractopamine, administered to increase the weights of pigs, turkeys and cattle prior to slaughter. 

As the E.U. continues to ban or restrict potentially dangerous food additives and chemicals in its countries’ food and products, consumers in the United States can do their own due diligence to avoid the same additives. By reading labels and choosing hormone-free, organic or locally grown food when possible, Americans can take their health into their own hands, even as some of the FDA’s new regulations come into effect.

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About The Author

Amy Flyntz

Amy Flyntz

Amy Flyntz is a Brooklyn-based writer and the founder of Amy Flyntz Copywriting. She spends her days weaving words to woo the masses, reading memoirs (and her horoscope) and snuggling with her rescue dog, Linus. Amy can be reached at www.amyflyntz.com.

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