Why Are Some Food Additives Banned in Europe Still Used in the U.S.?

You might find it shocking that several food additives legal in the USA are actually banned in Europe. The European Union regulations don’t allow the usage of drugs and hormones on farm animals. Meanwhile, these items are still legal in the USA and used on farm animals to increase their growth or milk production.

The number of food additives in the USA has only skyrocketed from 800 to 10,000 in the past 50 years. Additives are added to everything, from breakfast cereals to bakery items to carbonated drinks.

So you might wonder why food additives with possible cancer risks are banned in one continent and allowed in another.

There are Various Factors Contributing to the Usage of Certain Food Additives in the USA Despite Having a ban in Europe

Loopholes in the Food Additives Amendment of 1958

Food Additives Amendment Act of 1958 recognizes two regulatory mechanisms. This includes the FDA and the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) process. The FDA food additive approval system is constantly at a standstill. Sometimes reviews take around two years on average. Some even get dragged for decades.

Unsurprisingly, companies turn towards GRAS, another body that can approve a food additive. Meanwhile, industry lawyers and scientists claim the safety concerns are being blown out of proportion. They also argue that major reforms can hinder innovation in food. It can also negatively affects FDA, which is already fighting for resources.

GRAS allows companies to add food additives if they are considered safe. That’s too without the intervention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or even without informing the FDA.

Why was GRAS Allowed to Bypass FDA Approval for Food Additives?

Initially, the loophole was included in the Food Additives Amendment Act to do faster. However, it was only used for adding common ingredients like vinegar and tablet salt to processed food. This allows companies to bypass the yearlong review process by the FDA. 

However, as time passed by, companies started exploiting it.

With such loopholes, companies regularly introduce new additives without consulting the FDA. This is how food companies have started to roll out different flavors of food items so faster.

The majority of food additives are safer to consume. However, consuming them can trigger severe allergic reactions and long-term health issues. Instead of going through a ridiculously long process, companies prefer getting their ingredients Generally Recognized as safe.

Once GRAS approves the food additive, the company can ask FDA to review the evaluation. It is up to the company. They can go for an evaluation. Alternatively, they sell the product in the market without FDA approval,

Safety Tips are Taken by the USA and Europe

E.U. has a different perspective on dealing with additives. U.S. regulators based their decisions on probability. This means they focus on the likelihood of the occurrence of a bad incident. On the other hand, E.U. regulators focus on the possibility of something bad happening.

Expert Believes U.S. Policies are Shaped Through Lobbying

The European Union has a conservative approach to regulating food additives. Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, currently serving on the Advisory board for the Toxics Substances Control Act, believes lobbying has a strong presence in the United States. Businesses that pump money into the system have a role in bending the policies to their advantage.

FDA in the United States is Quite slow in Updating Regulations

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently updated its Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA). According to the revised version, chemicals must be evaluated before they are sold in the market. However, According to Sathyanarayana, the policy doesn’t evaluate the humungous amount of additives already in the market.

However, the European food chemical review system implements a stringent system. According to it, all approved food chemicals will be re-evaluated.

The United States doesn’t have a reevaluation system. So, certain chemicals already approved years ago will remain unevaluated. Reevaluation is important even if a chemical is previously stated safe to use. Toxicology is constantly progressing, and you never know when new information will come to light.

Some Food Additives are Still Used in the U.S. Despite Being Banned in Europe

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide is an additive commonly used in salad dressings, coffee creamer, and some white sauces.

The European Food Safety Authority banned titanium dioxide. Researchers believe it has linked to cancer. However, the FDA USA doesn’t act after the EFSA assessment.

While the research data is inconclusive, the European FSA still decided to go for a ban as any link to cancer should not be risked.

Potassium Bromate and Azodicarbonamide (ADA)

You will find these food additives in baked goods. However, neither of these is actually essential according to experts. These chemicals are banned in Europe due to their possible link to cancer.

Although they are not banned in the U.S., people are becoming more aware. Some American restaurants have removed these items from their food due to added pressure from consumers.

Potassium bromate is dough whiter. It is added to bread, rolls, buns, pizza dough, pastry dough, and other bakery items. The chemicals help the dough to rise higher, providing that signature white glow.

Azodicarbonamide, or ADA, is another whitening agent in cereal flour. It is also known as a dough conditioner. The chemical breaks downs into carcinogenic chemicals during the baking process. That’s why it is also banned in Europe.

Brominated Vegetable Oil

If you see a cloudy appearance on your soft drinks like in mountain dew, it’s due to brominated vegetable oil (BVO). The oil was found to leave a residue on body fat. Most importantly, it has been linked to the death of two people who consumed the ingredient in large quantities.

BVO contains bromine, an element found in brominated flame retardants. It can accumulate inside your body, leading to skin issues, nerve problems, and memory loss.


BHA and BHT are used as antioxidants and preservatives in food, food packaging, and animal feed to preserve food color, odor, and flavor. They are severely restricted in Europe but are commonly found in American food products. BHA is listed as a carcinogen in the United States Government Reports. However, researchers have mixed findings on BHT.


To summarize, food additives are used all around the world in order to increase shelf life and stabilize ingredients. While this may sound beneficial, there are certain additives that have been linked to adverse health effects. In Europe, some of the most dangerous food additives have been banned in an effort to keep people safe; however, these same ingredients are still used in the United States. It is important to stay informed on which additives should be avoided when shopping for food items, as these will ultimately affect your health. Researching individual ingredients before making a purchasing decision can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and ensure that you are not consuming any potentially hazardous substances. Taking all of this into consideration, the takeaway from this blog post is that it's best to be aware and diligent when selecting foods from your local grocery store or farmer's market.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


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