By Julie Chapon, Co-founder and CEO of Yuka 

Food safety regulations remain a critical concern globally, particularly as consumers become increasingly conscious and concerned about the ingredients present in the products they consume. An obvious discrepancy exists between food regulations in the United States and those in Europe. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strives to ensure consumer safety, the standards it upholds are notably less stringent than those mandated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). This regulatory contrast has significant implications for consumer health and well-being on either side of the Atlantic.

The differences in food safety standards between the United States and Europe can be traced back to a complex interplay of historical, cultural, and political factors. Europe has historically adopted a precautionary approach to food safety, emphasizing the need for stringent regulations and thorough risk assessments before allowing the use of certain additives or ingredients. In contrast, the United States has tended to prioritize industry interests and innovation, leading to a more relaxed regulatory environment that permits a wider range of additives and ingredients. However, it’s important to remember that food lobbies continue to have an important presence in Europe as well, actively trying to curb regulatory action.

This said, it’s necessary, now more than ever, to establish more comprehensive and standardized food regulations, particularly in light of the globalized nature of the food industry. Harmonizing food safety standards between Europe and the United States is essential to safeguard public health and well-being on both continents. A unified approach to food regulation would ensure consistent and transparent product quality, enabling consumers to make informed choices about the food they purchase and consume. By prioritizing consumer safety and well-being, comprehensive regulations can help build trust and accountability within the food industry while fostering a healthier and more sustainable global food system. 

But, in the meantime, while food regulations continue to be drastically different from one country to another, it’s essential for consumers to be aware of which ingredients are subject to strict regulations or outright bans in Europe but permitted in the United States, as some of these substances have been linked to potential health risks. For instance, certain artificial food dyes, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, which are authorized but strictly regulated in Europe, are widely used in the United States even if they have been associated with adverse effects, including hyperactivity and attention deficit in children. Yellow 5, specifically, is contained in many products catered to children — like Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and Kraft’s Mac & Cheese, just to name a few. Similarly, certain growth hormones and antibiotics commonly used in U.S. meat and dairy, flavor enhancers, artificial sweeteners, and additives like brominated vegetable oil, which is currently under FDA examination, have been removed or had their recipe reformulated from most European products, but are still present in what hose in the United States purchase every day. 

Product formulas often differ significantly between the United States and Europe, leading to varying health implications for consumers. Take the example of carbonated beverages, which frequently contain different sweeteners and preservatives depending on the market. In the United States, high-fructose corn syrup is a commonly used sweetener, while in Europe, sugar or natural sweeteners are preferred. Similarly, packaged snacks and ready-to-eat meals often have distinct formulations, leading to differences in nutritional value and potential health impacts for consumers on either side of the Atlantic. 

One of the most famous examples of how brands often change a popular product’s ingredient formulation to fit in the EU market is Skittles. Skittles changed its recipe in Europe, eliminating titanium dioxide, a white pigment suspected of increasing cancer risks, together with high-risk additives, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. 

Though, Skittles is not a standalone case. The U.S. version of Froot Loops contains four high-risk additives not found in the EU version – Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1, and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT). Even the image of the parrot on the cereal box was adjusted! Similarly, United States version of M&M’s contains three dyes deemed high risk not found in the EU version – again, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40.

Ultimately, drawing attention to harmful additives in food products can prompt manufacturers to reevaluate their ingredient lists and reformulate their products accordingly. Consumer awareness and advocacy play a pivotal role in pressuring the food industry to prioritize health-conscious practices and transparent labeling. By scrutinizing ingredient lists and highlighting the potential risks associated with certain additives, consumers can drive demand for safer and more wholesome products. Manufacturers, in turn, are compelled to respond to this demand, reformulating their products to align with consumer preferences for healthier and more transparent food options. Personally, I was able to see firsthand in our ongoing battle against nitrites in France and Europe how, through collective consumer action, we can inspire a transformative shift in the food industry, promoting greater accountability and transparency for the benefit of public health and well-being. 

In conclusion, the disparities in food safety regulations between the United States and Europe underscore the need for a concerted global effort to prioritize consumer health and well-being. By addressing the root causes of these regulatory differences and advocating for more comprehensive and standardized food safety measures, we can create a safer and more transparent food landscape for consumers worldwide. Empowered consumer awareness and collective action are crucial in driving meaningful change within the food industry, encouraging manufacturers to prioritize ingredient transparency and reformulate products to meet the growing demand for safer and healthier food options. Through collaborative efforts, we can foster a culture of accountability and responsibility, ensuring that the food we consume is not only delicious but also safe and conducive to our overall well-being.

About the author: Julie Chapon, co-founder of Yuka since its inception in 2017, is a dedicated advocate for healthier living and sustainability. At Yuka, she plays a pivotal role in empowering consumers to make informed choices for their well-being. Passionate about nutrition, she regularly writes articles for Yuka’s blog, collaborating with experts in each field. The blog currently has more than 2 million monthly readers and serves as a complimentary awareness-raising tool for the app. Titles include articles on endocrine disruptors and the impact of organic food on health, to name a few. Yuka deciphers product labels and analyzes the health impact of food products and cosmetics.

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