Foods That Are Banned in Europe, But Not the US


The European Union is as suspicious as ever when it comes to food stuffs containing chemicals, unnatural dyes, and meat treated with synthetic growth hormones. Since 1981, the EU has had stringent rules for the importation of food to its markets, and those rules have only gotten stricter with time. In 1989, it banned as many as six growth hormones, launching a trade dispute which has lasted 30 years and counting. In 2003, it permanently banned one synthetic growth hormone, while provisionally banning five others, and a whole host of dyes, chemicals, and preservatives are persona non grata in the EU as well.

From hard shelled candy delights, milk, dyed salmon, and beef and pork treated with all kinds of growth hormones, here are 10 foods banned in parts of the European Union that are not banned in the United States…

10. Skittles

While not banned in the entire EU, Skittles are banned in Sweden and Norway for containing yellow die number 5 and 6. In most parts of the EU, all that’s required of the Wrigley Company (a division of Mars, Inc.) is to include a disclaimer suggesting that the candy could cause adverse health effects and hyperactivity. 

Still, it’s thought that these dyes can cause allergic reactions in some people, and FDA tests have shown that Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 all contained cancer causing agents like benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl. And the levels released in the body could be much higher than the FDA is reporting, thanks to the fact that routine tests tend to find less of these cancer-causing carcinogens than when they actually pass through the colon. 

Still, we’ve never heard of anyone in the US being hospitalized after eating Skittles. But maybe that’s just what they want us to think… 

9. rBGH or rBST Milk

The main reason cited by the European Union for banning both Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and its synthetic counterpart Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) officially is due to animal cruelty concerns, but there may be other adverse health effects linked to the use of these hormones. Both rBGH and rBST have been tenuously linked to the development of certain cancers. In addition to that, the FDA found that further study would have to be conducted to determine the impact these hormones would have on the liver and other organs.

But in addition to the potential adverse health effects of rBGH in humans, cattle treated with the growth hormone are more likely to come down with a nasty case of Mastitis, an inflammatory reaction in the udder tissue caused by infection from microorganisms. As a result of this disease, cattle in the US are treated with antibiotics, eliminating Mastitis infections, but potentially causing other problems further down the line. 

Although the World Health Organization is primarily concerned about the over-reliance and over-use of anti-biotics in humans, claiming that this could lead to the evolution of a superbug, 90% of antibiotics consumed aren’t taken by humans, they’re fed to otherwise healthy animals. And experts warn that this could lead to our livestock essentially becoming superbug factories. As the bacteria they harbor become more and more resistant to antibiotics, it’s only a matter of time before these traits get passed on to bacteria harmful to humans.

8. Papaya, Corn, and Soy

The FDA and World Health Organization recognize that most genetically modified crops (GMOs) are safe for consumption. In fact, they seem to make crops more virus resistant, and the fervor around them perplexes scientists. But the European Union just isn’t having it; 19 out of 27 countries in the EU have a ban on genetically modified crops.

For some of the other growth hormones and additives on this list, it’s understandable why the EU would want to be more cautious when approving them for mass consumption. Though there was a scientific paper linking cancer in rats to herbicides as recent as 2012, it was later retracted after a lengthy dispute with its authors citing that while there was no “evidence of fraud or misrepresentation of data, no definitive conclusions can be reached,” meaning there were issues with the number and type of animals used in the study. 

Unlike the US and the FDA, the EU takes a far more cautious approach when it comes to approving GMOs, meaning that they must pass rigorous tests and environmental monitoring before they will deem it safe for consumption by citizens in their countries. 

However even their system is not perfect: recently a batch of GMO treated papaya began circulating through EU controlled markets. The offenders appear to be Thailand farmers, who mass produced GMO treated crops. 

(Editor’s note: This entry on GMOs has been edited to improve the quality of the information. The previous version did not meet our standards.)

7. Breads Containing Azodicarbonamide

Azodicarbonamide (ADA for short) is a chemical used to bleach breads in order to increase their shelf life. Recently companies like Subway, McDonald’s, and other fast food restaurants have come under fire for using this chemical. 

ADA is also the chemical that allows bubbles to form inside foams and plastics like vinyl.

The EU banned ADA because of its potential harmful effects on human health. Both potassium bromates, a chemical used in bread that helps it rise in the oven, and ADA have been linked to kidney and thyroid cancers in rats. 

So, if China, Brazil, and the European Union have all banned the use of this chemical in their breads, why haven’t we? 

The fact of the matter is the FDA just doesn’t think it’s dangerous. After multiple studies, it’s ruled that it’s not harmful in humans. The question you have to ask yourself is, which research do you trust more? And why? 

6. Chlorine Washed Chicken

Chlorine plays many roles in the industrialized world. It’s a powerful tool for cleaning water supplies which otherwise might become contaminated and lead to the development of Cholera when ingested (a disease which is extremely fatal), but it’s also used to clean other things… like chicken.

Chlorine washed chicken means just that, chicken that’s been washed with chlorinated water. According to most websites devoted to chicken and all things related to chicken (it’s the internet, of course there are websites devoted to chickens), chlorine washing is a food safety practice which helps keep harmful bacteria from growing on poultry. 

But, while the EU doesn’t think that washing your poultry in chlorinated water will lead to adverse health effects, they do think that it’s a method of covering up poor hygiene practices. This, understandably, has made US exporters incredibly angry, as it’s a decision not based in scientific evidence, but rather paranoia. 

5. Instant Mashed Potatoes

While the FDA will argue otherwise, the preservatives butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) found in instant mashed potatoes (and pretty much every single packaged food you buy in the US) have been known to cause cancers in rats. They’re also known to impair blood clotting when consumed in high quantities (among other symptoms, like hyperactivity). 

BHA and BHT are used primarily to prevent foods from excreting oils, this prevents them from going rancid and extends their shelf life. 

And can you guess what the European Union did about this?

If you guessed that they outright banned them, then congratulations are in order. You’re right. 

The strange thing about this situation is that the FDA admits that BHA and BHT are probably carcinogenic in nature. The FDA certified these food additives as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), but this just means that they’re only regarded safe up until a certain amount is consumed and never underwent pre-market review.  

4. Mountain Dew

You might be surprised to learn that your favorite lemon lime soda may contain a chemical typically used in flame retardant, and that this ingredient has been banned in over 100 countries. The FDA tested the ingredients in Mountain Dew and found that they lacked enough conclusive data on one of its main ingredients, brominated vegetable oil, to decide whether or not it was safe to consume, yet it’s still labeled as GRAS (generally regarded as safe). 

Of course, across the pond, it’s a different story. 

Because it competes with iodine for receptor sites in the body, high levels of brominated vegetable oil in humans can lead to thyroid problems, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. In fact, bromine is considered a toxin. 

Though brominated vegetable oil is still legal in the US, Pepsi and Coke decided to remove the ingredient from their soft drinks after the public backlash. The question is, what will it be replaced with? 

3. Farmed Salmon

Eating salmon has all kinds of health benefits, but people consuming anything other than freshwater or organic salmon might be consuming a harmful carcinogen. The European Union has outright banned farm raised salmon, and for good reason.

So, what exactly separates farmed salmon from freshwater salmon? Well, the fact that salmon raised on farms are typically fed an unnatural diet of grain, antibiotics, and other drugs that leave their meat an unhealthy-looking gray might have something to do with it. 

Propagators of farm raised salmon use a chemical known as astaxanthin to dye the unhealthy gray away. You’re probably guessing that astaxanthin has been banned in the EU due to health concerns, and you’d be right. 

What’s more is that freshwater salmon, growing up on natural food sources, retain a vibrant pink quality to their meat.  

2. US Pork

Pigs in the United States are typically given food laced with ractopamine, a growth promotion drug which helps animals remain lean. The drug basically mimics the effects of stress hormones, allowing for the production of more meat while keeping feed consumption relatively low. 

What might be the problem with this? Well, the company that produces ractopamine, Elanco, did their own testing on the drug, and this might be a decent indicator that some corners might have been cut. Shortly after the FDA approved the drug for use in American pork products, farmers began reporting that more and more pigs became nonambulatory, which is a fancy way of saying they can’t stand or walk. These pigs tend to get treated very poorly in US slaughterhouses, getting trampled and dragged by workers, and electrically shocked by cattle prods in a cruel effort to get them moving again.

More than 218,000 pigs were recorded as nonambulatory, that’s far more than any other drug used on livestock in the country. The FDA accused Elanco of withholding information.

But, despite this news, ractopamine is still allowed in the US, all that’s changed is a big old disclaimer listing the drug’s side effects. 

On this one, we can’t really blame the EU for banning it. Sometimes, being cautious pays off.

1. US Beef

Much like the EU’s reasoning on banning US sourced milk, meat sourced from cattle raised on growth hormones cannot be imported to the European Union. Believe it or not, this decision has resulted in a long-standing trade dispute between the US and EU, lasting 30 years and counting. 

Unlike milk, however, the ban on US beef extends to six different growth hormones, with estradiol being permanently banned and five others provisionally banned. This has resulted in US retaliation in the form of tariffs on select food imports from the EU, an action that the EU has heavily criticized. 

Not all US beef is banned in the EU, though; just recently a deal was reached to allow a certain market share for companies looking to export organic beef, but the tariffs remain. The US claims that the EU’s decision is not based on scientific evidence, and that they’re not treating farms that use synthetic growth hormones fairly.

We guess the question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not the US is telling the truth when it cites its own studies. If corporations like Elanco can get away with hiding information on their own scientific studies, thereby fooling the FDA, what other corners are being cut in regard to other synthetic growth hormones?

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  1. There is 0 evidence that GMOs cause health problems of any kinds. I know the sites quality has been going down since you fired your editor, but did you fire the fact checker too?

    • Hi Seth,

      Thank you for your comment. We have made an edit to the list item pertaining to GMO’s.