As Americans, we might be wary about eating certain foods when we travel abroad. We tend to think of our food supply as being safe compared to other countries.
The truth is, the U.S. has less stringent food-safety rules than many other parts of the world.
Lisa Y. Lefferts is a senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says that multinational food-processing companies often “reformulate a food product for sale in Europe.” This means that they sell a version of the product in Europe that is healthier than the product they distribute in the U.S.
Here are five food ingredients banned in Europe that are sold in America…
- Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO). It’s a popular additive in sports drinks and citrus-flavored sodas. Big Food says it’s a good (i.e. cheap) way to ensure consistent flavor in their beverages.
But what most people don’t know is that the original patent on BVO was for use as a flame retardant. Its side effects include depression, hallucinations, memory loss, and seizures. BVO is illegal in Europe and Japan and some U.S. based companies have voluntarily removed it.
Check drink labels for this additive. But your best bet for avoiding BVO is to take processed drinks out of your diet altogether.
- BHA and BHT. These chemicals are commonly used in the U.S. food industry as preservatives. But their use is heavily restricted in Europe.
The National Toxicology Program has said that BHA “is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” And they note that BHT has been linked to cancer in animal studies.
- Farm Animal Drugs. Other countries ban many drugs that the U.S. commonly uses on farm animals. These include recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). This is the synthetic version of the hormone cows produce naturally. Dairy farmers use it to ramp up milk production. But more than 30 countries ban it.
In addition to the entire European Union, these include Australia, Canada, and Israel. Why? Studies show rBGH may cause breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers in humans.
- Ractopamine. Livestock farmers in the U.S. use this drug to make their animals pack on muscle. It also lowers the fat content of the meat. It is linked to heart problems in humans. The drug shows up in about 30% of grain-fed cattle and 80% of pigs. Ractopamine is outlawed in Europe and about 160 other countries. 
- Potassium Bromate and Azodicarbonamide (ADA). Sandwiches, bagels, hot dog, and hamburger buns… If you’re eating any of these in the U.S., you’re likely getting a dose of potassium bromate.
Baking companies say it makes the dough rise higher and gives it an appetizing white color. The problem is it has been classified as a carcinogen since 1999. This is why the European Union, Canada, and China don’t allow potassium bromate in their food.
Similarly, ADA is commonly used in buns at fast-food restaurants. It is used to soften dough and as a whitening agent. It breaks down into cancer-causing chemicals during baking.
Regulations regarding food dyes are also more lax in the U.S., specifically regarding red dye no. 40 and yellow dyes no. 5 and no. 6. They are not banned in Europe. But, unlike in America, warning labels are required. Consumers are cautioned that the dyes “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” They have also been linked to cancer.
These dyes are used in candy, cereals, ketchup, and mustard.
The U.S. government clearly is not going to protect you from toxic foods. It’s up to you.
Read labels carefully to look for the additives we’ve mentioned. Better yet, avoid the processed foods that commonly contain them.