A quick look into food standards and regulations between the United States and the European Union (including the United Kingdom) reveals a vast disparity between the two. Within the United States, there is currently a preventable, yet growing health crisis: food-related diseases, including, but not limited to, “obesity; type 2 diabetes; cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases; some types of cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease,” (USRTK). It is estimated that half of all American adults have a preventable, chronic disease due to poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity, 40% to 100% higher than that of citizens of the European Union.
The current food regulations and food safety laws are quite different when comparing the United States with the European Union. Whereas the EU takes a proactive approach, the United States takes a reactive one. “In the United States, food additives are innocent until proven guilty, while in Europe, only those additives proven not to be harmful are approved for use,” (Organic Germinal, 2018). Further, in the United States, food companies themselves are largely in charge of their own regulations; they have the autonomy to decide which chemicals and additives go in their products. Oftentimes, the unhealthier and potentially dangerous options are the cheaper ones, leading major food corporations to opt for them.
The different ingredients used in McDonald's French Fries when comparing the United States with the United Kingdom, (Food Babe, 2019).
Currently, there are eight common ingredients approved for use in the U.S. but banned by the European Union:
Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
Coloring Agents (Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Red No. 40)
BHA and BHT
The above ingredients are banned in the European Union as they are believed to potentially have adverse effects on humans, and some are even considered to be carcinogens, a substance that is capable of causing cancer in living tissue. However, with the United States reactive rather than proactive approach, the ingredients are approved and used in a variety of foods from bread, cookies, pizzas, soft drinks, and candies, among many others.
Further, one major point of tension is the allowance of genetically modified foods (GMOs), defined as a plant, animal, microorganism, or another organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering. In 2003, the EU passed laws providing "the European Union with possibly the most stringent GMO regulations in the world," (Wikipedia, 2021). Any potential GMO must first undergo extensive food evaluations performed by the EFSA, a European Union Agency that provides independent scientific advice on food-related risks. Due to this rigid research system, the European Union has approved fewer than forty genetically modified crops, most of which are animal feed. On the other end of the spectrum, the United States stands at over one hundred approved GMOs. Further, the FDA, the United States federal agency that is responsible for protecting the health of the public, does not require that GMOs even be labeled on food sold to consumers.
The United States has approved significantly more GM crops than the European Union, (Lau, 2015).
The European Union relies on a more natural food-producing system, oftentimes opting for the healthier choice, even when it means the shelf life of the item will not be as long. On the other hand, many foods in the United States have been altered using preservatives, fillers, and dyes to enhance the taste, prolong the shelf life, or lower production costs. Unfortunately, it seems many current U.S. practices and laws hold little regard for human health.
Dietary factors and many chronic diseases go hand in hand. Studies have found that disease prevalence is 40% to 100% higher in the United States than in Europe. A 2004 study concluded that a higher percentage of people in the United States has one of the following diseases: heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. Further, “Americans are more likely to have multiple chronic diseases [and] are more likely to be obese,” (Solé-Auró et al., 2015). Globally, studies have found that poor nutritional habits are responsible for around 22% of all deaths. In other words, "better eating could prevent one in five deaths worldwide," (IHME, 2019).
Disease prevalence in the United States vs. Europe, (Solé-Auró et al., 2015).
Though it is clear that vast disparities in approved ingredients in the United States vs. Europe exist, it is also certain that there are healthy and unhealthy foods in all countries. As always, awareness and education are only the first steps. One must make a conscious effort to maintain good health through informed food choices and sustained physical activity, regardless of geographical location. Further, advocating for change is the start of creating a healthier, more conscientious world for the generations to come.
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