Chemicals that are Banned in Europe, but Widespread in U.S.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

As any parent can tell you, macaroni and cheese dinner is a go-to food for fussy young eaters. But moms and dads might not be so quick to reach for the familiar blue box if they knew that some of the chemicals it contained are banned in Britain and restricted in the rest of Europe.


Studies have shown that Yellow Dye No. 5 and No. 6, often used in macaroni and cheese dinner, can cause hyperactivity in children. That caused the U.K. to ban the chemicals and the European Union to require warning labels on products containing them.


Other chemicals allowed in products sold in the United States, but banned or restricted elsewhere, include formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in personal care products; Atrazine, a widely-used herbicide that ends up polluting water supplies; and DPA (diphenylamine), which is used to keep apple and pear skin fresh while the fruit sits in cold storage.


DPA has come to the attention of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which notes that in the EU, the allowable level of DPA on imports of apples and pears is 0.1 part per million. The average concentration of DPA on U.S. apples is roughly four times higher at 0.42 parts per million.


“Americans, particularly parents of young children, deserve the same level of concern from our government,” EWG senior scientist Sonya Lunder said. “Apples, apple juice and applesauce are staples in the diets of millions of children, so if there are potential risks to kids from DPA, we need to know now.”


The reason for the dichotomy appears to be a difference in philosophies on how chemicals should be regulated, according to a report by Ensia. In the EU and much of the rest of the world, if a product presents a credible threat of danger to human or environmental health, it’s restricted or banned. In the United States, the regulatory agencies mandate a high level of proof that a product is dangerous before its use is restricted.


The U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regulates chemicals used in this country, but the process of taking a chemical off store shelves can take years. In fact, few chemicals have ever been barred through the TSCA.


That policy often results in chemicals being removed from the marketplace only when their use becomes known to the public and there are enough objections from consumers that manufacturers voluntarily remove the offending product from the marketplace. Such a case happened this year when it became known that sandwich chain Subway used a chemical, azodicarbonamide, also found in yoga mats in its bread. The fast food chain has since announced that it will cease using the chemical. However, many other chains, including McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s, continue to use the chemical in their baked goods.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Banned In Europe, Safe In The U.S. (by Elizabeth Grossman, Ensia) 

Most U.S. Apples Coated With Chemical Banned In Europe (Environmental Working Group)

Agribusiness Giant Goes after UC Berkeley Scientist (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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