By Christine Lepisto on Treehugger.com
How many times do you hear people say: "Well, it must be safe because the government allows it?" But can you rely on that? Maybe a look at some of the foods and food practices that are permitted in the U.S. and banned in Europe could shed light on how governments judge safety in the food chain.
Genetically Modified Foods
Although the European Union (E.U.) is continuously coming under attack
for policies banning GM foods, the community is highly suspicious of
genetically modified foods, and the agro-industrial pressures that drive
their use. The problem with GM foods is that there is simply not
sufficient research and understanding to inform good public policy. In
spite of widespread GM use without apparent negative impacts in other
countries, the recent public reaction to trans-fats are reason enough to
support a precautionary principle for the food supply chain.
Pesticides in Your Food
The E.U. has acted against the worst pesticides typically found as residuals in the food chain. A ban on 22 pesticides was passed at the E.U. level, and is pending approval by the Member States. Critics claim the ban with raise prices and may harm malaria control, but advocates of the ban say action must be taken against the pesticides which are known to cause harm to health and nevertheless consistently found in studies of food consumption.
Bovine Growth Hormone
This drug, known as rBGH for short, is not allowed in Europe. In contrast, U.S. citizens struggle even for laws that allow hormone-free labelling so that consumers have a choice. This should be an easy black-and-white decision for all regulators and any corporation that is really concerned about sustainability: give consumers the information. We deserve control over our food choice.
Amid cries that eating American chickens would degrade European citizens to the status of guinea pigs, the E.U. continued a ban on chickens washed in chlorine. The ban effectively prevents all import of chickens from the U.S. into Europe. If chicken chlorination is "totally absurd" and "outrageous" for Europeans, what does that mean for Americans?
Image credit: Getty Images
Food Contact Chemicals
Phthalates and Bisphenols in plastic are really beneficial. They help manufacturers create plastic products with the softness and moldability needed to fulfill consumer needs. But when the food contact additives are found in the food and liquids contained by those plastics, trouble starts. Both the U.S. and Europe stringently regulate food contact use of chemicals. However, the standard of approval is different. In Europe, the precautionary principle requires that the suppliers of chemicals prove their additives safe, or they will be banned. Of course, although the E.U. has banned phthalates in toys, both phthalates and bisphenol-A remain approved for food contact uses -- subject to strict regulations on their use.
Stevia, the natural sweetener
The U.S. recently approved this "natural" sweetener as a food additive. Previously, it was sold in the U.S. under the less stringent dietary supplement laws. It has been embraced in Japan for over three decades, but E.U. bans still stand -- pointing to potential disturbances in fertility and other negative health impacts. But the sweetener is credited with potentially positive health effects too. Is this a case where consumer choice should prevail?
Planned Ban: Food Dyes
Many food dyes previously recognized as safe are suspected of contributing to attention deficit disorder. Action is afoot as the UK evaluates a ban on synthetic food colors. Regulation in the E.U. often starts through the leadership of one Member State, which pushes the concepts up to Brussels after a proof-of-concept pilot phase. Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, and Red 3 are among the food colors associated with hyperactivity.