How the US’s approach to food safety differs from the EU’s approach By

Policy approaches regarding food safety in the US and the EU are dramatically different. In the European Union, their principal is straight forward: If there is substantial evidence of danger to human/environmental health, protective action is taken, despite scientific uncertainty. In the United States, scientific proof of harm to human/environmental health must be demonstrated before action is taken. Our question is this: Should additives be innocent until proven guilty?

European regulations against additives in foods and chemical residues are generally more strict than in the US, due to their precautionary approach. As a result, there are many petrochemical-based food colorings (foods derived from petroleum) banned in the EU, but approved in the US. For example, artificial dyes in food products have been banned from the market in Norway and Austria due to health concerns. Popular food dyes, such as Yellow Dye No. 5, have been linked to problems in children including but not limited to: allergies, increased aggressiveness, and learning impairments. Due to Europe’s stricter regulations, foods containing these additives were taken off the shelves following the publication of only a handful of studies that outlined their potential negative health effects. However, in the US products that contain these coloring agents are considered safe are allowed to be sold as long as they are included in the ingredients list.

Another example is Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), which acts as an emulsifier in soda and sports drinks. BVO contains bromine, an element found in brominated flame retardants. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), BVO has been sitting on a list of food additives “permitted on an interim basis pending further study” for decades. Like many chemicals in foods, BVO was placed in “regulatory limbo” and is deemed as safe until further notice. Many studies have concluded that bromine disrupts normal hormone function, brain development, thyroid function, fertility, and can even increase one’s risk of cancer. The chemical has been banned in more than 100 different countries including almost all of Europe.

Contaminants such as heavy metals are substances that have not been intentionally added to food, but are present in food as a result of various reasons. This could be production, packaging, transport or holding. Since contamination has a negative impact on the quality of food, the EU’s legislation set specific levels of contamination to be legally permitted. For example, Arsenic is a heavy metal present in drinking water, grain-based products, and seafood that have been found to have carcinogenic properties and put humans at risk for different forms of cancer, and induce behavioral abnormalities in adults. In the EU only 5% of arsenic comes from water and 95% comes from food…to put into perspective, you’d need to drink 5 liters of water to get the equivalent arsenic toxicity levels of a small 100g portion of rice. There is strict regulation around arsenic in water supplies and little to no regulations in arsenic levels in foods. The EU announced guidelines for arsenic in rice: 200 ppb (parts per billion) while in the US, there is no standard for arsenic in food.

Yellow Dye #5, BVO, and Arsenic are just a few examples of chemicals found in food that are allowed to be consumed in one part of the world, but are banned in others. The EU and the US authorities have simply reached different conclusions about food safety, based on the same amount of evidence and research. I don’t know about you, but it makes us feel uneasy that there is no scientific or regulatory consensus when it comes to the agricultural and food products that we consume.

So what does this mean for us, the consumers? We are expected to comply with these differentiated ways of approaching the chemicals added in our food, and found in our food, depending on where we find ourselves living in the world. TestSharing gives the power back to the consumer, by giving you the most powerful weapon: knowledge. The way TestSharing scores the foods we test is by a simple to understand index scale. Our index scale always prioritizes the strictest and safest scores making sure our users are fully aware of the toxins and residues presented in the tested foods. Let’s make toxin-free eating a choice for everyone, regardless of the place where you reside.

  • 27 November, 2018