Last Updated on May 20, 2023 by Max
Introduction: The Hidden Dangers in Our Food
In our fast-paced world, convenience often trumps all else, particularly when it comes to food. However, this convenience may come with a hidden cost. Many food ingredients widely used in the United States are raising eyebrows among health experts. While legal in the U.S., some of these substances are banned or heavily regulated in Europe due to associated health risks.
Chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers are rising. Research suggests that our diet – specifically, certain food additives – may be a contributing factor. One of the most concerning aspects is the potential link between these substances and chronic inflammation, a key driver of many diseases.
This article will delve into food additives, exploring why some ingredients that Europe deems unsafe are still permitted in the U.S. and how they might impact our health.
The Double Standard in Food Safety
In the global kitchen of food regulations, not all recipes for safety are created equal. The divergence in food safety standards between the European Union and the United States is a prime example of this discrepancy.
In broad strokes, the EU operates under the “precautionary principle,” a policy that essentially means that if an ingredient is suspected of causing harm to the public or the environment, it is banned or restricted until proven safe. On the other hand, the U.S. typically follows a “proof of harm” principle, which means an ingredient is generally considered safe until definitive evidence shows otherwise.
This stark contrast in regulatory approaches has resulted in a list of food ingredients that are no longer allowed in the EU due to potential health risks but continue to be permitted and used in the U.S. Let us take a look at each. As we delve deeper, we will explore why these ingredients are still allowed in the U.S., despite their potential health risks. However, we would like to know your thoughts before we do that. Were you aware of these differences in food safety standards? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
BHA and BHT: A Closer Look at These Controversial Preservatives
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are two preservatives that have been in the spotlight for their potential health risks, particularly their possible carcinogenic effects (Williams, G.M., et al., 1999). These synthetic antioxidants are widely used in the U.S. to prevent the oxidation and rancidity of fats in foods, enhancing their shelf life.
Animal studies have shown that BHA can cause certain types of cancer, including papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas (Williams, G.M. et al., 1999). However, the evidence in humans still needs to be conclusive. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, has classified BHA as a possible human carcinogen.
On the other hand, BHT has not been classified as a carcinogen by the IARC. While some animal studies have suggested a potential for liver, thyroid, and kidney carcinomas with high doses of BHT, other studies have shown anti-carcinogenic effects, contributing to the ongoing debate about its safety (Williams, G.M.et al.,1999).
In contrast to the U.S., the EU has taken a more cautious approach due to these potential health risks. The use of BHA and BHT in food products is restricted in Europe, and they can only be used in certain food categories under specific conditions (European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), 2012).
The crux of the issue lies in balancing the benefits of these preservatives – preventing food spoilage and extending shelf life – and their potential health risks. One could argue that the “precautionary principle” employed by the EU prioritizes public health, while the “proof of harm” principle used by the U.S. prioritizes economic efficiency (Williams, G.M., Iatropoulos, M.J., & Whysner, J., 1999).
We must grapple with this: Are we willing to trade off potential health risks for the convenience of longer-lasting food? How do you feel about the use of these preservatives in our food? As we continue uncovering the nuances of these double food safety standards, we encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section.
- Williams, G.M., Iatropoulos, M.J., & Whysner, J. (1999). Safety assessment of butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene as antioxidant food additives. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 37(9-10), 1027-1038.
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (2012). Re-evaluation of butylated hydroxytoluene BHT (E 321) as a food additive. EFSA Journal, 10(3), 2588.