The United States of America is under a constant critique of our ‘questionable’ diets and the ‘suspicious’ ingredients found in them. Numerous common ingredients and production styles used in the U.S. are banned in other countries for a multitude of environmental and human health concerns. Here’s a look at five of these commonly used products and some information that led them to be banned in other countries.
1. Farm-Raised Salmon
Banned in Australia and New Zealand
In 2015, researchers from the conservation group, Oceana, collected 82 samples of salmon labeled “wild” from restaurants and grocery stores in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. Using DNA analysis, the researchers aimed to uncover whether or not the salmon were labeled correctly. The report revealed that almost half of the salmon (43%) were mislabeled, and 69% of those mislabeled fish were farmed Atlantic Salmon being sold as wild… The report also noted that in restaurants, 67% of the salmon were mislabeled on menus – compared to grocery stores where 20% were mislabeled.
So what is the problem with farm-raised salmon?
Farm-raised salmon are bred on a mostly artificial diet of grains and a mixture of antibiotics, causing intense color-loss of the flesh. One such drug created to combat this loss is fabricated from petrochemicals, which have not been approved for human consumption. Thus, at the consumer level, there is a lack of visible differences between farm-raised and wild salmon.
- Escapes: most Atlantic salmon in the market is not grown in the Atlantic Ocean. Escaped Atlantic salmon may interact with Pacific salmon (which belong to different genera and do not produce fertile offspring) and may compete with other native fish
- Pollution: especially in low current areas, fish excrement and uneaten feed is a major source of pollution under net pens (most are located where currents are high).
- Sea Lice: common in farmed salmon habitats; this can infect native salmon populations. The U.S. requires monthly monitoring of farmed fish and request treatment if sea lice number exceed three lice per fish.
- Antibiotic Resistance
2. Bread with Potassium Bromate
Banned in Canada, China, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, India and Brazil
In 2007, imported American chips containing potassium bromate failed to pass China’s import status and landed in Chinese food trade quarantine. The United States was the exporter of these chips, as this additive is not banned in America. The first series of studies challenging the use of this additive was done in Japan in 1982; researchers found that it caused cancer in the thyroid, kidneys, and other parts of the body in rats and mice. Following the study, multiple countries banned the additive, excluding the United States.
Potassium Bromate is a common additive in breads, baked goods, chips and tortillas, as it is commonly used in flours. Producers purchase flour and “enrich” it with potassium bromate because it is a powerful oxidizing agent that chemically ages flour much faster than open air. Historically, bakers relied on oxygen in the air to age the bread which took weeks. The additive is claimed to make the dough more elastic and better able to stand up on bread hooks, further expediting the production process. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified this additive as a possible carcinogen (cancer causing agent). Multiple studies have shown that “the agent is carcinogenic in rats and nephrotoxic (destructive to the kidneys) in both man and experimental animals when given orally.” The U.S. FDA considers an amount of potassium bromate less than 20 parts per billion to be “negligible” when measured after being baked; this assumption results in minimal consumer attention.
Today, many producers have moved to voluntarily avoid the use of flour that contains potassium bromate. California is one of the only states that has taken measures to inform its residents of the negative effects of the chemical; no other regulatory agency has taken action to readjust its current position on the American market. Unfortunately, it is still commonly found in most fast food buns and other baking flours on the American market.
Banned in the UK and Canada
In 1968, researchers from Procter & Gamble “accidentally” discovered a calorie- and cholesterol-free fat substitute, Olestra. The substance is used in fat-free snacks like chips and French fries (and much more). Three years ago, Time Magazine named the fat substitute “one of the worst 50 inventions ever.” But this didn’t stop food companies from using it in a hoax to lead people to believe that eating “fat-free” snacks is healthier than non-fat-free snacks. A 2011 study out of Purdue University published multiple conclusions that the substance actually had adverse fat-free effects. Rats who were fed potato chips made with Olean actually gained weight; this is because the Olean interferes with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, B and K. Fat substitutes interfere with the body’s ability to regulate the food we eat—this leads to overeating and increased weight gain.
In 2014, Lays and Pringles were the two most popular worldwide brands using Olestra in their products. Products that included the substitute were: Lay’s Light KC Masterpiece BBQ, Doritos Light Nacho Cheese, Ruffles Light Original, Ruffles Light Cheddar & Sour Cream, Tostitos Light Restaurant Style – Fat Free Bar-B-Q Pringles and Fat-Free Sour Cream and Onion Pringles. Olestra/Olean have been reported to have adverse intestinal reactions such as diarrhea, cramps and leaky bowels.
Preservatives BHA and BHT
Banned in: The European Union, Japan, the UK does not allow BHA in infant foods
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated Hydroxytoluene) are preservatives commonly found in breakfast cereal, nut mixes, chewing gum, butter spread, meat, dehydrated potatoes and beer (just to name a few). Both are chemically made and typically used in products that contain fats and oils. Essentially the preservatives prevent the foods from becoming rancid (going bad). BHA is actually a potent antioxidant and is therefore found in many products as a preservative. How can an antioxidant keep food from going bad? Well, it basically comes down to the fat. Oxidation is the process that takes place when fats and oils are exposed to the air—this is the same process that we observe when uncooked beef starts to turn grey (-ish/brown). When BHA (or its chemical cousin BHT) are added to these fats, the preservative acts as a blocking agent to the attacking oxygen molecules; as a result, the food lasts longer and tastes better(?).
Here’s a question…What food additive does the Food and Drug Administration deem “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS – widely considered safe for their intended use in specified amounts), while the National Institutes of Health AND the National Toxicology 13th Report on Carcinogens, says it is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen?” –> Surprise! BHA and BHT!
In some studies done on rats, mice, and hamsters it was found that the preservative causes cancer at high doses. However, these findings only showed that the cancerous particles found were exclusively in the fore-stomach, which is an organ human beings do not have. In this case, many researchers believe that in low levels, BHA is perfectly safe for human consumption, especially for our lack of a fore-stomach. One consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, released a report that placed BHA in the “avoid” category and BHT in its “caution” category. The reasons behind this classification are the biological effects that some studies have shown to be harmful to human health. However, the preservatives have been observed to have some beneficial effects as well! In animal lab studies, both substances at high levels, as well as low levels, showed anti-cancer properties; this was seen through the scavenging of harmful free radicals (can accelerate the progression of cancer) or by stimulating production of enzymes that detoxify carcinogens. Other research has concluded that low doses of BHA are actually toxic to cells and higher doses are protective… and also the reverse.
So basically, what are we supposed to believe here…?
The bottom line – it should not be your top priority to go out of your way to avoid these ingredients. You can think of it in this way, the nutritional benefits of a whole grain cereal with these additives, substantially outweighs any risk of BHA or BHT. Do be aware though, that because the health effects on humans are extremely unclear, it should be important to at least limit how much food you consume that has preservatives in it. These foods are not typically healthy anyways! Fresh and minimally-processed foods contain either no, or very few additives and almost always have more natural nutrients. AND! There is a healthier alternative to BHA and BHT—vitamin E!
Milk and Dairy Products Laced with rBGH
Over 30 countries have banned U.S. milk that contains rBGH, including Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand and Israel
Recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBGH, is a synthetic version of a natural growth hormone produced in a cow’s pituitary gland. It is the largest selling dairy animal growth hormone on the American market. In 1993, the FDA approved usage of the synthetic substance, developed by Monsanto. Monsanto, who calls themselves “a sustainable agriculture company,” genetically engineered rBGH from E. coli bacteria; it can be found on the market under the name “Prosilac.” The product’s use promotes increased milk production in cows by increasing another hormone level know as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Non-organic farms that inject rBGH in their cows demonstrate high numbers of cows that suffer from more than 16 different adverse health conditions (mainly mastitis which contaminates milk with pus and antibiotics). The effects from this phenomenon increase the need to use even more antibiotics on the animals and can lead to serious repercussions in the livestock, humans and also the environment. Over time, demand for rBGH has drastically decreased; many large grocery store chains banned purchasing products that used the synthetic hormone (including Walmart). In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a survey that found 1 in 5 cows (or 17%) were still being injected with rBGH.
1) “Does drinking milk from rBGH-treated cows increase blood levels of growth hormone of IGF-1 in consumers?”
Because BGH is not active in the human body, if it were absorbed from drinking milk (the hormone levels were not substantially higher in milk from rBGH-treated cows) it would not be expected to cause any health effects.
However, because rBGH-treated cows show higher levels of IGF-1 (a hormone that helps some types of cells grow), high levels of this might promote the development of cancerous tumors. Studies found that increased levels of IGF-1 correlated with the growth of prostate, breast, colorectal and other cancers (later studies have failed to confirm this relationship).
2) “Cows treated with rBGH tend to develop more udder infections (mastitis). These cows are given more antibiotics than cows not given rBGH. Does this increased use of antibiotics lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and is this a health concern for people?
The development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is undoubtedly promoted by the increased use of antibiotics to treat rBGH-induced mastitis. However, it is unclear of the extent to which these are transmitted to humans.
Check out this video on the Canada-Monsanto rBGH scandal!