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6 Common Food Additives Used in the U.S. That Are Banned in Other Countries

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the use of food additives like preservatives, colors, sweeteners, fat replacers, emulsifiers and other ingredients added to food to maintain or improve safety, freshness, nutritional value, taste, texture and appearance. Food additives can be direct (those added for a specific purpose) or indirect (those added in trace amounts due to packaging, storage or handling) and are determined safe for market use only after stringent FDA review.

Many food additives approved for use in the U.S. are banned in other countries.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Due to the FDA's regulation of food additives, most people assume that if food is on grocery store shelves, it must be 100 percent safe for human consumption. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. As the FDA states: "Because of inherent limitations of science, FDA can never be absolutely certain of the absence of any risk from the use of any substance." In fact, several food additives approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA are banned in other parts of the world.

So if you think everything in your pantry is safe to eat, think again. Here are 6 common food additives found in the U.S. that are banned in other countries.

Azodicarbonamide (ADA)

  • Use: whitening or bleaching agent for cereal flour and as a dough conditioner in baking; also used to make rubber products like yoga mats and shoe soles
  • Concerns: During baking ADA breaks down to form new chemicals, one of which, semicarbizide (SEM), is known to increase the incidence of tumors in lab rats.
  • Banned: European Union

Bromated flour

  • Use: improves gluten content in baked goods to strengthen dough and promote rising
  • Concerns: Studies dating back to 1982 have found that potassium bromate used in bromated flour causes cancer in lab rats and is "possibly carcinogenic to humans"
  • Banned: European Union, Canada, Brazil, Peru, China

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)

  • Use: added to citrus drinks like Mountain Dew to keep flavor evenly distributed; also used as a flame retardant
  • Concerns: nervous system depressant, endocrine disruptor, causes reproductive and behavioral problems
  • Banned: Europe and Japan

Olestra/Olean

  • Use: fat-free fat replacer in foods like potato chips
  • Concerns: gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea; interferes with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Banned: U.K. and Canada

Ractopamine

Recombinant Bovine growth hormone (rBGH)

  • Use: artificial growth hormone given to cows to increase milk production
  • Concerns: increased risk of breast and prostate cancer
  • Banned: European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia

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