It’s no secret that Americans love to eat.
While it’s getting easier to tell what’s really in those packages on the supermarket shelves — if you care to read the label — those ingredients can still be pretty confusing. Here in the US, we chow down on foods that are actually illegal in the European Union and many other countries.
While public outcry over food almost always revolves around health, politics plays a big role when it comes to deciding whether to ban a food.
Milk, Cheese and Ice Cream
Actually, Europeans love dairy products and the EU countries together are the number one dairy producers in the world. Back in 1999, the EU banned milk and dairy products from cows treated with synthetic growth hormones, which are also banned in Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Since 1993, the Food and Drug Administration has maintained that the hormones, which make cows produce more milk, pose no threat to humans. The FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health all agree that they can’t tell the difference between milk from hormone-treated and untreated cows.
However, advocates, including some physicians, say the effects of bovine growth hormone aren’t widely understood. In response to public demand, many manufacturers and retailers, such as General Mills, Dannon, and Wal-Mart, have pledged to go hormone-free.
Scientists have created strains of corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops that resist devastating insects and diseases. These crops have been widely grown in the US for years, but not the European Union.
Europeans are suspicious of genetically modified foods and what they see as the corporate interests behind them. Some experts, including world-renowned scientist David Suzuki, believe that genetically modified foods are leading to an increase of antibiotic resistance, both in the crops and the creatures that consume them — including humans.
Vibrantly Colored Breakfast Cereal
If it seems impossible to imagine a world in which cereal, mac-n-cheese, candy and juice drinks don’t come in eye-popping colors, just go to the UK. Numerous studies have shown a link between behavioral problems in children and the laundry list of most common food colorings, including Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3 and Yellow 6.
While the European Union hasn’t outlawed the dyes altogether, it does require special labeling of foods with the dyes linked to behavioral problems.
Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, said in this article that “While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it’s hard to justify their continued use in foods, especially those foods heavily marketed to young children.”
Bright White Flour
Most dedicated bakers in the US are adamant: Bleached flour, which has less protein than the unbleached kind, works best for making light and fluffy cakes, waffles and pancakes.
Bleached flour does have fewer nutrients than non-bleached flour, but that’s not the real issue here.
In Europe, flour is whitened by letting it sit in the air for a week or so. In the US, flour is bleached using food additives including chlorine, bromates, and peroxides, which have been banned in Europe and many other countries since the early 1990s. The reason is that these chemicals may cause cancer and were never really intended to be eaten in the first place.
Found in everything from pastries to candy to peanut butter, partially hydrogenated oils (which don’t exist in nature) are cheap, create a great texture, and by all accounts are really, really bad for you. It’s no surprise that many European countries have strictly limited the amount of hydrogenated oils in products. In 2003 Denmark, one of the healthier countries in the world, introduced laws, limiting the amount of trans fats in foods to no more than 2%.
The United States didn’t even require manufacturers to list “trans fats” — the stuff that makes hydrogenated oil so unhealthy — until 2006. Because public health experts blame trans fats for a plethora of heart diseases and cancers, many manufacturers are voluntarily giving them up.