‘Safe’ in the US While Banned Elsewhere
This post is for those of you who believe the regulatory agencies in the US tasked with protecting our health and the health of us and our planet are actually fulfilling their mandates. The US declares as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) the use of chemicals that other countries, notably the European Union, have classified as presenting unacceptable risks of harm to the environment or to human health. Co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Stacy Malkan, says, “The policy approach in the U.S. and Europe is dramatically different.” (Hemmingway, 2014) The European Union bases its chemical management and environmental protection policy decisions on the Precautionary Principle. The Precautionary Principle A general definition: The precept that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous. As used in environmental matters: The theory that if the effects of a product or action are unknown, then the product should not be used or the action should not be taken. (Dictionary.com, 2015) “The precautionary principle enables rapid response in the face of a possible danger to human, animal or plant health, or to protect the environment. In particular, where scientific data do not permit a complete evaluation of the risk, recourse to this principle may, for example, be used to stop distribution or order withdrawal from the market of products likely to be hazardous.” (Europa, 2011)
Use of this principle “covers cases where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen by the EU.” (European Commission, 2000) The EU’s goal is to ensure a strict level of environmental protection through PREVENTATIVE decision-making. In other words, in the EU, when there is substantial, credible evidence that something poses a danger to humans or the environment, protective action must be taken even if there is continuing scientific uncertainty. This is the EU’s Communication on Precautionary Principle in its entirety if you wish to read it for yourself.
Now compare the EU’s decision-making policy on risk of harm to the US’s policy. Policy on Health & Environmental Safety: US vs EU
The US government approaches food and chemical safety from exactly the opposite direction: In this country, a high level of proof that something is HARMFUL must be shown before any regulatory action will be taken. This policy clearly puts the protection of companies over the safety of people, other animals, plants, the soil, water, and air.
ARTIFICIAL FOOD COLORING & DYES The case of artificial food coloring and dyes provides an example of how it works in practice: “Same Study, Different Conclusions “In the case of Red Dye No. 40, Yellow Dye No. 5 and Yellow Dye No. 6, it means that after considering the same evidence — a 2007 double-blind study by U.K. researchers that found that eating artificially colored food appeared to increase children’s hyperactivity — European and U.S. authorities reached different conclusions. In the U.K., the study persuaded authorities to bar use of these dyes as food additives. The EU chose to require warning labels on products that contain them — greatly reducing their use, according to Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist with the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. In the U.S., the study prompted the CSPI to petition the Food and Drug Administration for a ban on a number of food colorings. But in its review of these dyes, presented in 2011, the FDA found the study inconclusive because it looked at effects of a mixture of additives rather than individual colorings — and so these colors remain in use. “While FDA approval is required for food additives, the agency relies on studies performed by the companies seeking approval of chemicals they manufacture or want to use in making determinations about food additive safety, Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist Maricel Maffini and NRDC senior attorney Tom Neltner note in their April 2014 report, Generally Recognized as Secret. “No other developed country that we know of has a similar system in which companies can decide the safety of chemicals put directly into food,” says Maffini. The standing law that covers these substances — the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act — “makes requiring testing [of chemicals] more cumbersome than under TSCA,” says Neltner.” – Hemmingway, 2014 Did you notice the part about the FDA’s relying on studies done by the very company that manufactures the product to make their determination of the product’s safety? And this dangerous policy isn’t limited just to food dyes.
By the way, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1, Caramel coloring, and others – all FDA-approved as GRAS – have also been linked to neurological problems, allergies, brain cancer, ADD, ADHD, and more. They’re banned in France, UK, Norway, Austria, Finland, and other countries but NOT in the USA. In the US, you’ll find them in most packaged products – for example, candies, cereals, sports drinks, fruit flavored drinks, baked goods, packaged cheeses, and boxed macaroni and cheese. (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015)
Comparisons of how some other foods, additives, and preservatives known to be problematic or outright toxic are classified in the US vs other countries: GMOs
The US FDA classifies GMOs as “GRAS” – in spite of a long list of research findings showing the opposite. The US government is even fighting labeling so consumers could be able to choose to avoid GMOs. 30 countries have banned all or some GMOs in their food supply. See the Organic Consumers Organization’s Countries & Regions With GE Food/Crop Bans. BHA & BHT
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), derived from petroleum, are used as preservatives in processed meats, cereals, candies, chewing gums, and other food products in the US. They’re also used as frying oils in many fast-food restaurants. Both BHA and BHT have been linked to liver and kidney damage, fetal abnormalities, mental and physical retardation, cancer, baldness, increased appetite, loss of energy, and insomnia. BHA and BHT are banned in European countries and Japan but NOT in the US. (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015) OLESTRA, AKA OLEAN
Proctor and Gamble created Olestra, a sucrose polyester, to be used for lowering the fat content in processed foods. Olestra (brand name Olean) is used as a frying oil and is found in 0 calorie/ 0 cholesterol/ 0 fat products such as fat-free fries and potato chips. Olestra has been linked to GI problems, irritable bowel syndrome, weight gain, and cramps. It blocks the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and essential minerals. The UK, Canada, and some other countries have banned olestra. The US FDA declares it GRAS as a food additive and replacement for unhealthy oils. (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015) BROMINATED VEGETABLE OIL (BVO)
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is derived from corn or soy and bonded with bromine for use as an emulsifier in fruit-flavored sodas and sports drinks (eg, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Fanta, Powerade) to keep their flavor oils in suspension and give them a uniform color. BVO is also patented as a flame retardant. It’s so poisonous that only two ounces of a 2% solution can poison a child. Bromine absorbed by the body replaces iodine and causes iodine deficiency. Brominated vegetable oil has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, thyroid problems, and infertility.
And, by the way, the vast majority of corn and soy crops grown in the US (the source of BVO) is genetically modified.
BVO is banned in 100 countries, including Japan and the European Union countries. The FDA has allowed its use as GRAS in the US. In May 2014, under pressure from consumer groups, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo announced they would work toward removing it from all their drinks. (USA Today, 2014) (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015) POTASSIUM BROMATE
Potassium bromate is an oxidizing agent used in commercial baking to bleach and improve the elasticity of dough. It speeds up the baking process, makes it cheaper, and results in baked goods that are softer, fluffier, and whiter. Potassium bromate has been linked to kidney damage, neurological disorders, thyroid problems, GI discomfort, and cancer. Bromated flour has been banned in many countries, including the European Union, Brazil, Canada – and even China. In the US, it has remained legal since it was first patented for use in bread making in 1914. (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015) (Yoquinto, 2012) rBGH and rBST GROWTH HORMONES
Most cows in the US are treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone to increase their milk production. These hormones impair the animals’ immune systems so many of them get painful udder infections. The cows are then given antibiotics to control the infections. If you’re consuming milk from cows injected with rBGH or rBST, you too are getting dosed with growth hormones and antibiotics. The US FDA approved multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto’s bovine growth hormones, rBGH and rBST, as GRAS. Interesting tidbit: Margaret Miller, a scientist working on the development of rBGH at Monsanto, was later appointed as Deputy Director of the FDA. Soon after her appointment, the FDA gave approval to these bovine growth hormones. rBGH and rBST growth hormones have been linked to breast and prostate cancer, thyroid disease, diabetes, obesity, infertility, asthma, allergies, early onset of puberty, and breast growth in 5-year-old girls and men in their 40s. Bovine growth hormones are banned in many European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and France. The FDA allows their widespread use in the US. (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015) ARSENIC
Earlier this year, the FDA admitted that 70% of the chickens grown in the US contain arsenic, a toxic chemical that causes death in high dosages and cancer at lower doses. It’s added to chicken feed to make store-bought chicken meat look pink and fresh. EU countries have banned the use of arsenic in chicken feed. (DeCuir, 2015) (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015) FORMALDEHYDE
Formaldehyde is a toxic flammable gas used in the production of fertilizers, bleaching agents, food preservatives, hair straightening products, and personal care products such as baby shampoos and soaps. Food companies also add formaldehyde to foods such as milk, noodles, and meats to extend their shelf life.
Formaldehyde is linked to human cell damage. Long-term exposure can cause leukemia while short-term exposure can cause watery or burning eyes, asthma, headaches, skin irritation, and nausea.
The FDA allows the use of formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents in cosmetics, personal care products, poultry and food-fish feeds (as an antimicrobial to control salmonella). In the US, only Minnesota has banned in-state sales of children’s personal care products containing them. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents are banned in Japan, and many other countries, including the European Union. (Grossman, 2014), (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015), (Shook Hardy & Bacon, 2014)
Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of pesticides, chemically related to nicotine, that attack insects’ central nervous systems, causing paralysis and death. These neurotoxins have been linked to bee colony collapse. They enter plants’ tissues and can remain in the soil up to 500 days after spraying, causing other plants grown in the treated soil to produce toxic nectar and pollen.
Neonicotinoid pesticides can also cause neurological problems in humans. Children who are exposed to these neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors while in the womb have a higher risk of developing cancer, neurological problems, mental disorders, autism, ADD, and ADHD.
The European Union has put a two-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. The US rejects banning this neurotoxin. (Beyond Pesticides, undated) (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015)
Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is commonly used as a bleaching agent in commercially baked white breads, cakes, and pastries and is the chemical that keeps bread soft and fresh-seeming many days after you bought it. Azodicarbonamide also improves flour’s strength and elasticity – and is a chemical used in the production of foamed plastics.
It has been linked to asthma, allergies, other respiratory problems – and much worse.
This chemical has been banned by most European countries and Australia. Some countries, including Singapore, have even instituted severe penalties for using it: 15 years in jail and $450,000 fine.
Here’s a 2014 list of 500 commercially baked products that contain Azodicarbonamide – bagels, muffins, pizzas, buns, breads, pastries, croissants, bread crumbs, pitas, croutons, stuffing mixes… You get the idea. (Montuori, 2014) (Seattle Organic Restaurants, 2015)
There are many more. In fact, the vast majority of packaged foods available in the US contain chemicals that are banned in other countries. The FDA allows over 3,000 food additives in US food production, including foods and products intended for infants and young children. Many of these additives are banned in other countries because of their health risks. (Mercola, 2015)
MCDONALD’S FRENCH FRIES IN THE US VS THE UK
I want to close with one more example: A comparison of the French fries sold by McDonald’s in the US and in the UK.
While commercial French fries aren’t exactly known as healthy foods, McDonald’s fries sold in the US are much unhealthier than the version they sell in the UK.
For one thing, McDonald’s fries sold in the UK list four ingredients while their US version list seven, mostly chemical additives. But look at the ingredients lists for both countries carefully and you’ll see they’re a bit misleading. At the bottom of the US list, we learn that the vegetable oils contain other ingredients – eg, TBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane. At the bottom of the UK list, we’re told non-hydrogenated vegetable oil is used to prepare the fries in the restaurants. Does this mean hydrogenated versions are used when the potatoes are fried the first time at McDonald’s factories before they’re frozen and distributed to the various franchises?
In the US, McDonald’s fries are cooked in hydrogenated canola and/or soybean oil, two of the unhealthiest oil choices and both most likely made from genetically engineered plants. Their fries here also contain TBHQ, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Dimethylpolysiloxane , and “natural beef flavor” (made with wheat and milk derivatives). (Mercola, 2015)
HYDROGENATED CANOLA & SOYBEAN OILS VS NON-HYDROGENATED SUNFLOWER & RAPESEED OILS
In the US, McDonald’s cooks its fries in canola and soybean oils, plus hydrogenated soybean oil. Canola oil isn’t totally terrible for you since it’s low in saturated fats and fairly high in unsaturated fats, including Omega-3 fatty acids – but it’s most likely to be made from GMO plants. 90% of the world’s canola crop is genetically modified.
Hydrogenating soybean oil turns its unsaturated fat into saturated fat, making it easier to cook with and turning it into a preservative. This soybean fat has now become a trans fat and trans fats have been strongly linked to heart disease. And there’s also the fact that about 84% of the soy beans grown in the US are GMO.
McDonald’s French fries sold in the UK are fried in non-hydrogenated sunflower or rapeseed oil at the restaurants. Both these oils are high in Omega-6 fatty acids that oxidize to cyclic aldehydes. The rapeseed is also GMO.
And remember that McDonald’s fries its potatoes twice: Once during preparation at the factory before they’re frozen and shipped out to their franchise restaurants and again before they’re served.
Overall, while definitely not so good for you, the oils used in making the UK version are healthier than the US version. (Goyanes, 2015) (Gunnars, 2015) (Mercola, 2015)
Tertiary butylhydroquinone) is a form of butane used as an FDA approved as GRAS chemical preservative in foodstuffs to delay the onset of rancidness and extend the foodstuff’s storage life. You’ll find it in many products: from crackers, potato chips, pet foods, cosmetics, baby skincare products, varnish, lacquers, resins, to explosive compounds.
High doses of TBHQ can cause nausea, delirium, collapse, tinnitus, and vomiting. It’s also linked to hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis, restlessness, and aggravation of ADHD symptoms.
Long term high doses in lab animals are linked to the development of cancerous precursors in the stomach and DNA damage. It’s also linked to estrogen disruption in women. (Botes, 2011)
SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE
Sodium acid pyrophosphate (also referred to as disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate) is mined from phosphate rock and then processed with sodium and other molecules into a synthetic chemical used as a food additive classified as GRAS by the FDA.
It’s used as leavening agent to fluff up foods, in non-dairy creamers to reduce acidity, in processed lunch meats to keep them moist, in breads to retard molds, in cheeses to help them retain their shape, in potato products to retard blackening, in tuna and other seafood to keep it from discoloring or drying out.
Phosphates in general have been linked to renal failure and cardiovascular disease. Sodium phosphate in laxatives has been linked to severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, organ damage, bone and tooth decay. (Marshall, 2014)
Dimethylpolysiloxane is a silicone-based organic polymer. It’s FDA approved as GRAS in foods. It’s also used in silicone caulks, adhesives, aquarium sealants, mold release agents, polishes, cosmetics, hair conditioners, as a filler in breast implants, and Silly Putty.
The FDA also permits dimethylpolysiloxane to be preserved by a variety of chemicals that don’t have to be listed on the label – including formaldehyde, a toxic chemical linked to allergies, brain damage, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. (Food Babe, 2013)
No major studies have been conducted on the safety of dimethylpolysiloxane yet the FDA approves it as GRAS in our foods – in anything except milk.
McDonald’s uses it as an anti-foaming agent and to reduce oil spattering in its US franchises. While dimethylpolysiloxane isn’t banned in the UK, McDonald’s doesn’t use it in its French fries there.
“NATURAL BEEF FLAVOR”
The so-called “natural beef flavor” McDonald’s uses in its French fries in the US for some reason is made with hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk so they have to carry a wheat and milk allergen warning. Hydrolysis is an industrial process of digesting something with chemical agents. And the traces of highly processed beef byproducts along with the milk definitely keep them from being vegetarian or vegan.
McDonald’s fries in the UK contain no “natural beef flavor” so apparently it’s not necessary to include it. (Mercola, 2015)
Citric acid is naturally found in fruits and vegetables. McDonald’s uses it in the US to preserve the freshness of their frying oils – no doubt in a highly processed form. Somehow it’s not a necessary ingredient in the UK.
Dextrose, also called glucose, is a simple form of sugar derived from starch. It can be refined from many kinds of starch, including wheat, rice, potato, cassava, and arrowroot. The cheapest and most common source is corn. I’ll remind you that the vast majority of corn grown in the US (about 88% is GMO). Genetically modified corn is also grown in the EU.
Dextrose is used in McDonald’s US and UK franchises to give their fries that uniform golden brown color.
While natural, unprocessed salt contains trace minerals we need, refined table salt (the kind used by McDonald’s and pretty much all other restaurants, fast food or otherwise) is quite unhealthy. But it’s cheap and makes us thirsty for those enormous Cokes.
Refined table salt is quite different from natural, unprocessed salts. It no longer has the ability to combine with our body fluids, so undermines necessary, basic chemical and metabolic processes. Water retention, kidney and blood pressure problems, gall stones, and many other serious health problems can result from refined salt consumption.
Unrefined salts contain trace minerals that support the proper functioning of all our bodily systems, including the immune system, glandular system and nervous system. These trace minerals have been processed out of refined table salt.
For more on processed vs unprocessed salt, see The Healing Properties of Unrefined Salts.
Processed salt is used on McDonald’s fries in both the US and the UK.
And we’re not even talking about what’s in the ketchup!
Doesn’t this comparison of the ingredients in McDonald’s French fries in the US and the UK make you wonder how concerned our governmental agencies actually are about our health?
As Robert Mercola says,
“Still if McDonald’s can make a tasty French fry without preservatives, antifoaming agents, color stabilizers, TBHQ, and added flavorings for its British restaurants, why do they refuse to make them without this junk for Americans? (Mercola, 2015)
I highly recommend watching this short Michael Pollan video: Watch This Video and You’ll Never Eat McDonald’s French Fries Again … in the US or anywhere else in the world.
Now ponder this:
Beyond Pesticides. (undated. Chemicals Implicated. See: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/pollinators/chemicals.php
Botes, S. (2011). TBHQ – Why this preservative should be avoided. See: http://www.naturalnews.com/031318_TBHQ_food_preservatives.html
Decuir, L. (2015). Finally! The FDA Admits That Nearly Over 70% of U.S. Chickens Contain Cancer-Causing Arsenic. See: http://www.msn.com/en-ca/foodanddrink/foodnews/finally-the-fda-admits-that-nearly-over-70percent-of-us-chickens-contain-cancer-causing-arsenic/ar-AA8cWca
Dictionary.com. (2015). Precautionary principle. See: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/precautionary+principle
European Commission. (2000). EU’s Communication on Precautionary Principle. See: http://www.gdrc.org/u-gov/precaution-4.html
Europa: Summaries of EU Legislation. (2011). The precautionary principle. See: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/consumers/consumer_safety/l32042_en.htm
Food Babe. (2013). You Won’t Believe Where Silly Putty Is Hiding In Your Food. See: http://foodbabe.com/2013/10/22/sillyputty/
Goyanes, C. (2015). What’s REALLY Inside Those McDonald’s French Fries? See: http://www.livestrong.com/article/1002598-whats-really-inside-those-mcdonalds-french-fries/
Grossman, E. (2014). BANNED IN EUROPE, SAFE IN THE U.S.: Who determines whether chemicals are safe — and why do different governments come up with such different answers? See: http://ensia.com/features/banned-in-europe-safe-in-the-u-s/
Gunnars, K. (2015). Canola Oil: Good or Bad? See: http://authoritynutrition.com/canola-oil-good-or-bad/
Hardin, J.R. (2014). The Healing Properties of Unrefined Salts. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/2014/08/02/healing-properties-unrefined-salts/
Hemmingway, S. (2014). Banned in Europe, Safe in the U.S. See: http://www.healthfreedoms.org/banned-in-europe-safe-in-the-u-s/
Marshall, L. (2014). Is disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate (sodium acid pyrophosphate) natural? See: http://newhope360.com/ingredients-general/is-disodium-dihydrogen-pyrophosphate-natural
Mercola, R. (2015). The Big Food Discrepancy: Why Are American Foods Routinely More Toxic Than European Versions? See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/02/11/mcdonalds-fries-ingredients.aspx
Montuori, N. (2014). Yoga Mat Chemical “Azodicarbonamide” Found in Nearly 500 Foods. See: http://www.ordinaryvegan.net/adalist/
Organic Consumers Organization. (undated). Countries & Regions With GE Food/Crop Bans. See: https://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/gefood/countrieswithbans.php
Polan, M. (2014). Video: Watch This Video and You’ll Never Eat McDonald’s French Fries Again. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbZBJT358_Y
Seattle Organic Restaurants. (2015).Top 10 foods, additives and preservatives that are banned in many countries except US. See: http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-food/foods-banned-in-other-countries-but-we-eat-in-us.php
Shook Hardy & Bacon. (2014). EFSA issues opinion on formaldehyde in animal feed. See: http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=c7f83204-2b3d-43cd-ba74-31f81433a10d
USA Today. (2014). Coke, Pepsi dropping controversial ‘BVO’ from all drinks. See: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/05/coke-pepsi-dropping-bvo-from-all-drinks/8736657/
Yoquinto, L. (2012). The Truth About Potassium Bromate. See: http://www.livescience.com/36206-truth-potassium-bromate-food-additive.html
© Copyright 2015 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Comments submitted prior to 8/25/2021
Excellent coverage of a vitally important topic! I believe that since the negative publicity about azodicarbonamide Subway has eliminated it from their breads. There has been a stampede among restaurant chains to be able to say their foods do not contain or will not contain soon any artificial ingredients (http://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/246976). We will see how that plays out in reality. An additive that is found in many bread products is L-cysteine. It is not an artificial chemical as much as it is a gross addition to improve
dough condition. This additive is derived from poultry feathers, hog hair, and human hair (the most common source). For kosher and halal purposes there is a more expensive version made from a mutant of e coli (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cysteine). No thanks!
I advocate buying organic and non-GMO and reading every label. I especially appreciate been reminded of the dangerous additives in French fries and potato chips, even those from other places than McDonald’s. Deep fat frying at high temperatures imparts acrylamide in the potato that is a carcinogen (http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/acrylamide-fact-sheet). I endorse the recommendations of Dr. John McDougall who urges a plant-based diet with no added oils, saying we can get enough fats in our diet from whole foods such as avocados, nuts, nut butters and tahini (https://www.drmcdougall.com/health/education/free-mcdougall-program/).
Starches are considered healthy by McDougall provided they are whole grain rather than refined, and only gluten-free for those with a known intolerance.
In reply to Sonnische.Thanks, Sonnische. Excellent information.