Europe Has Banned These Cancer-Linked Food Additives; Should the U.S.?

If you’re keeping an eye on what you eat this year, you may want to take it a step further than just calorie and fat intake. There are several additives that are legal in the United States, but banned in other countries because of their potential link to cancer.

The European Union bars several additives that have been linked to cancer from being used in food, as well as several drugs that are used in farm animals in the U.S. But the United States is lagging behind Europe when it comes to removing these substances from what we eat.

So why has the EU moved to limit the use of the additives and drugs, while the U.S. has not? According to a new piece for the New York Times, a 1958 amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from approving food additives that are linked to cancer, but many substances that were in use before the passage of the amendment are considered to have prior approval — so they’re not regulated, even though some of them are listed by the United States government as possible carcinogens.

Some of the cancer-linked additives legal in the U.S., but banned in Europe are:

  • Potassium bromate — This additive is commonly used in baked goods. Potassium bromate is often added to flour used in bread, rolls, cookies, buns, pizza dough, and other goods. The Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban the additive nearly two decades ago — but to no avail.
  • Azodicarbonamide (or ADA) — ADA is also commonly used in baked goods as a whitening agent; it can be used in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner. The additive breaks down during baking into chemicals that reportedly cause cancer in lab animals.
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) — Both of these additives are widely used as preservatives in the U.S. — they prevent oils in foods from oxidizing, which affects flavor, color, and odor of foods. Both BHA and BHT are restricted in Europe, but widely used in the U.S. Evidence on the danger in BHT is mixed, but BHA is listed as “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen in the U.S. government report on carcinogens.

Other ingredients such as dyes or additives put into sodas to preserve flavor are also among the ingredients banned in Europe but legal in the U.S. And though they don’t necessarily cause cancer, they are linked to other health issues. If you’re looking for a diet that will help you to lower your cancer risk, well, there’s no one specific diet. But according to the many experts we’ve asked about it, common sense eating is key.

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