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Next time you’re enjoying a plate of giant Buffalo wings or chowing down on a giant steak, think about the size of the animal that must have produced it. Have you ever noticed how much bigger some U.S. cows, chickens, and turkeys are than their European counterparts. That’s because many of America’s animal farms actually mix in synthetic hormones with the feedstock, making their cows, pigs, and other animals grow a lot bigger and faster than they usually would.
Click here to see the 6 American Meat Products That Are Banned Abroad (Slideshow)
While the practice has been given the thumbs up by the Food and Drug Administration, many overseas countries feel that the resultant meat and meat products are not all that safe for human consumption and disapprove of the practice. For this reason, and several others, a handful of common U.S. meat products are actually banned from sale abroad.
American beef is a prime example of meat being treated with a variety of hormones that have placed it on the banned list for several countries since 1993. U.S. chicken also makes an appearance on the banned list for being washed with chlorine. (It kills some the dangerous pathogens the chickens absorb while they’re crammed into the tight quarters of their feeding pens.)
Believe it or not, a lot more of your favorite American foods might actually be banned from being sold abroad. That big slice of papaya with your morning breakfast, for example, may have been genetically altered to make it bigger and shinier and so it’s banned in Europe, Japan, and several other countries that have strict rules about the sale of GE (genetically engineered) foods.
There are also plenty of food additives like Olestra, or Olean (found in potato chips), or bromated flour (commonly used in baking), or even popular food colorings like red dye #40 and yellow dye #6 (check your food labels to see how often they show up in the listed ingredients), that are widely used in American foods and beverages, from candies to sodas to vegetable oil, which are banned in most other countries.
Now, before you panic, food manufacturers who are using these additives and hormones are not necessarily trying to poison you — some additives preserve the life of the food if it’s meant to be stored for a long time, and the hormones allow more meat to be sold to meet the demands of a growing hungry population. Often, the FDA weighs the health concerns against agricultural demands and decides it’s worth it, even if the European Union (with much stricter food processing laws) often doesn’t agree.
Take a look at our list of some of the American meat products that are banned abroad and see if you agree.
Much of the U.S. beef cattle are fed synthetic hormones in the feedlots prior to slaughter. The chemicals are essentially growth hormones meant to increase the net amount of meat produced from each cow, but numerous concerns have been raised (by the National Cancer Association, no less) about the high incidence of hormonal cancers produced as well. As early as 1989, the EEC (European Economic Community) put its collective foot down and said that’s not okay, and banned the treated beef from being sold in any E.U. country, though some of those restrictions have since relaxed depending on the hormones used. There have also been other issues like mad cow disease, leading to China also banning American beef products. Ironically, the U.S. has banned much of the Europe’s beef products, too, because of mad cow disease.
Pigs, Cows, and Turkeys Fed Ractopamine
Another growth hormone commonly used in the U.S. to bulk up the meat product yield is ractopamine, which has been banned in the European Union, China, and Taiwan. In the U.S., it’s commonly used in the feedstock for pigs, cows, and turkeys (there’s a reason some of them are so big after all). The European Food Safety Authority and the Center for Food Safety have slammed the U.S. for its continued use of ractopamine saying it can cause anxiety and an increased heart rate in humans. As noted by the FDA, it can also increases injury and lameness in pigs. The U.S.’s position is that the use of ractopamine favors agricultural trade over the health risks.
Serusha Govender is The Daily Meal's Travel Editor. Follow her on Twitter @SerushaGovender
Dutch TV news has aired footage of customs officers confiscating ham sandwiches from drivers arriving by ferry from the UK under post-Brexit rules banning personal imports of meat and dairy products into the EU.
Officials wearing high-visibility jackets are shown explaining to startled car and lorry drivers at the Hook of Holland ferry terminal that since Brexit, “you are no longer allowed to bring certain foods to Europe, like meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, that kind of stuff.”
To a bemused driver with several sandwiches wrapped in tin foil who asked if he could maybe surrender the meat and keep just the bread, one customs officer replied: “No, everything will be confiscated. Welcome to Brexit, sir, I’m sorry.”
The ban came into force on New Year’s Day as the Brexit transition period came to an end, with Defra, the UK department for environment, food and rural affairs, saying travellers should “use, consume, or dispose of” prohibited items at or before the border.
“From 1 January 2021 you will not be able to bring POAO (products of an animal origin) such as those containing meat or dairy (eg a ham and cheese sandwich) into the EU,” the Defra guidance for commercial drivers states.
The European Commission says the ban is necessary because meat and dairy products can contain pathogens causing animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth or swine fever and “continue to present a real threat to animal health throughout the union”.
Dutch customs also posted a photograph of foodstuffs ranging from breakfast cereals to oranges that officials had confiscated in the ferry terminal, adding: “Since 1 January, you can’t just bring more food from the UK.”
The customs service added: “So prepare yourself if you travel to the Netherlands from the UK and spread the word. This is how we prevent food waste and together ensure that the controls are speeded up.” – Guardian
Hereford beef cattle. Farm Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Over the weekend, Republicans accused Joe Biden of trying to ban meat.
The claim, which you’ve heard from the likes of Donald Trump Jr. and Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, is that Biden’s climate plan will prohibit Americans from chowing down on burgers in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial agriculture.
On Fox News this Friday, former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned of a Fourth of July where “you can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts” (Kudlow doesn’t seem to be aware of what beer is made from). Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) dubbed Biden “The Hamburglar.”
Of course, Biden’s climate change plan does not limit meat-eating in any way. A Washington Post fact-check traced the burger-banning Biden myth back to a misleading article in the Daily Mail, a UK tabloid known for sensationalist coverage and right-wing politics. Biden’s actual climate policies so far have focused on reducing emissions from cars and power plants, with no effort to block meat production or consumption.
Vox’s German Lopez is here to guide you through the Biden administration’s unprecedented burst of policymaking. Sign up to receive our newsletter each Friday.
At first blush, this is yet another instance of a fake outrage cycle in the right-wing echo chamber pegged to a lie. But there’s something more distressing here too — it’s the latest example of how efforts to curb the climate crisis and our reliance on meat are becoming just the latest flashpoints in our all-consuming culture wars.
The grain of truth in the Republican claims (agri-pun intended) is that any serious climate change plan needs to do something about meat production. A recent paper in Science, a leading academic journal, found that food-related emissions alone put the Paris climate agreement’s warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius out of reach. The most effective way to address these emissions, according to the paper’s authors, is a global shift away from meat consumption.
Biden’s climate policies so far have not advanced this goal, so those conservative potshots over the weekend were lies. But here’s the thing: Biden’s plan absolutely should do something about industrial farming. Any plan to tackle climate change should do something to decrease America’s reliance on the meat industry — moonshot subsidies for lab-grown meat, for example.
But everything nowadays is bound up in our political identities, and meat has a cultural and economic significance few other things can match. Anything Democrats propose to address the problem of animal agriculture’s emissions will be — is already being — met by major backlash from the right.
Increasingly, America’s meat-eating ways are being subsumed into our culture wars. It’s yet another sign of how polarized our country is and how hard this polarization makes tackling a catastrophic threat like climate change.
On Thursday, the Daily Mail published an article with a characteristically inflammatory headline: “How Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH.”
The use of the word “could” there is crucial, as the article’s content is entirely speculative. It takes Biden’s recently announced climate change targets — cutting 50-52 percent of America’s emissions per month — and attempts to make projections about what policy changes might be needed to reach that target. Though Mail reporter Emily Crane admits that Biden “has yet to release any firm details on exactly how such a plan will affect the daily lives of ordinary Americans,” she goes ahead and makes some sketchy guesses.
“Americans may have to cut their red meat consumption by a whopping 90 percent and cut their consumption of other animal based foods in half,” Crane writes. “To do that, it would require Americans to only consume about four pounds of red meat per year, or 0.18 ounces per day. It equates to consuming roughly one average sized burger per month.”
The estimate is based on a University of Michigan paper on how much hypothetical diet changes could reduce American climate emissions, which found that the US could achieve a 51 percent reduction in food-related emissions by reducing beef consumption by 90 percent and all other animal-based foods by 50 percent. But there is no evidence presented that the Michigan estimate is informing Biden’s climate policy.
We cannot assume that, in order to hit a 50 percent reduction overall, Biden would attempt to reduce emissions in each sector of the economy by exactly 50 percent. The plans for the agricultural sector may end up being more or less than that, and they may aim to accomplish them by means other than reducing domestic meat consumption (like reducing the use of nitrogen in plant agriculture). As the Mail itself admits, we genuinely have no idea.
Despite these flaws, the Mail’s article took off in the right-wing media world, with many interpreting it as an actual summary of Biden’s policy aims. According to the Post’s fact-check, the most influential vector was Fox News, which made an easily shareable infographic about “Biden’s climate requirements” that launders the Mail’s misinformation as an authoritative claim about Biden’s plan stemming from the University of Michigan itself.
On Monday, Fox News’ John Roberts admitted the error on-air: “a graphic and the script incorrectly implied it [the Michigan study] was part of Biden’s plan for dealing with climate change. That is not the case.” But it was too late: the graphic had already motivated of the more prominent false claims on social media, with prominent conservatives retweeting it as though it were accurate:
I’m pretty sure I ate 4 pounds of red meat yesterday. That’s going to be a hard NO from me. https://t.co/wvGC19cN6R— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 24, 2021
As we’ve seen in the past, lies that circulate unchallenged in the right-wing media ecosystem can sometimes harden into myths. Birtherism and the Obamacare “death panel” rumors began as fringe claims pushed with little to no factual basis once amplified by conservative media, they became widely embraced by the GOP base and elements of the official Republican Party. The notion that the 2020 election was somehow stolen, while similarly factually challenged, spread even faster (largely because its progenitor was also the incumbent president and party leader).
Because so many conservatives distrust the mainstream media, fact-checks like the Post’s are not going to change the Fox-Republican narrative. As Biden continues to roll out his climate change policies, expect some conservatives to say it bans beef — even if it does nothing of the kind.
Here’s the problem, though: If Biden’s climate plan doesn’t do something about meat, it’s probably going to fail.
Globally speaking, livestock production represents a significant portion of overall greenhouse gas emissions. The reasons for this are intrinsic to meat production itself there is no way for humans to consume meat in the way we do without abetting catastrophic warming.
Ruminant animals like cows, kept in numbers much larger due to meat and dairy demand, emit methane gas through their bodily functions — a pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide. Raising allegedly more climate-friendly meats, like chicken, also emits significantly more greenhouse gases than plant-based protein productions. Animal agriculture necessitates clearing huge amounts of land, a significant cause of deforestation in places like Brazil’s Amazon. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), factory farms where animals are crowded into tiny cages and kept in horrific conditions, create massive feces lagoons that intensify the methane problem.
There is, in short, no way around the problem: If we want to keep climate change at a manageable level, we need to change the way we produce and consume animal products.
The Biden administration may or may not eventually take steps to deal with this problem. But the hysterical reaction to a falsehood that it is going to be doing so suggests just how explosive the reaction will be if Biden actually moves in this direction.
Biden and Barack Obama visit Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia, in 2009. Roger L. Wollenberg/Getty Images
Both in the United States and globally, meat’s cultural significance is hard to overstate. Humans have eaten animals for millennia, and it’s become deeply ingrained in our cultural rituals and self-understanding. In America, meat is linked with masculinity and ideals about the virtuous traditional American farmer — central concepts in a Republican Party dominated by culturally conservative rural whites.
To make matters worse, animal agriculture is also a huge business, meaning that billions of dollars would likely line up behind pro-meat Republicans. A new study reported by my colleague Sigal Samuel found that animal agriculture industries have already spent millions trying to undermine climate policy, when there’s been no federal effort to intentionally reduce American meat consumption. Imagine how hard they’d fight if there was one.
This conjunction of forces — the cultural power of meat and the interests of Big Agriculture — make the issue of reducing meat consumption politically challenging.
When a draft FAQ about the Green New Deal mentioned the problem of animal methane emissions, conservatives responded by falsely claiming the policy would ban cow production — seeing this as a potent attack line. There’s a reason Biden’s team responded to the current rumors by tweeting a picture of Biden grilling patties: This is a fight they don’t want to have directly.
Even the most palatable meat alternatives, like lab-grown meat and Impossible-style plant proteins, threaten both conservative self-images of America and the bottom line of the agriculture industry. When current Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) ate at a plant-based vegan restaurant in Atlanta during the 2020 campaign, his opponent David Purdue mocked him by tweeting a picture of himself eating bacon. The caption? “Pick your side, America.”
The unstoppable force of climate change advocacy on the left is about to hit the immovable object of attachment to meat on the right. The resulting fight will implicate issues at the very core of American identity, a country where animal agriculture is a major part of our mythologized cowboy past and economic present.
With the stakes so high, there’s every reason to believe that meat could be the next big fight in our all-consuming culture war. “Biden bans burgers” isn’t a one-off lie we may look back on it as the meat wars’ Fort Sumter.
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In 2007, a version of absinthe was made legal in the USA however, it didn't last long and is now illegal. The original recipe had an ingredient called thujone, which for absinthe is what caffeine is for coffee. essential. So, absinthe makes the list of banned foods as many are upset that the real European deal isn't on US shelves.
Haggis, a European custom, is illegal to import in the states as it contains sheep lungs. This ingredient is illegal in the states as it does not pass the FDA's food safety regulations. However, all it takes is a quick hop over the pound to try out this strange food. If you're skeptical, try it fried like Justin Bieber did.
There is a long list of food additives that are legal in the U.S., despite being illegal in other countries. To be fair, just because something is banned in one country doesn’t necessarily mean that the non-banning countries have it wrong. But for the most part, the influence that the food industry exerts on the Food and Drug Administration and a confusing bureaucratic process are at the heart of the problem.
T he FDA curates a list of food additives that are given the designation of “generally recognized as safe," or GRAS. The GRAS list is supposed to help protect the public’s food safety, but it's certainly lacking.
The following are six common food additives that are desperately in need of much better regulation.
Perhaps the most fitting example of FDA constipation can be found in the story of olestra—brand name Olean—the product of a $200 million investment by Procter & Gamble for the development of a zero-calorie, fat-like polymer that tastes like fat but isn’t digested. Instead it passes through you.
Oh, does it ever pass through you.
Soon after the product came to market in 1996, problems were evident. The ensuing years brought nearly 4,000 complaints filed with the FDA, most of which were for something the agency and company already knew. Kessler’s FDA was at least able to affix a label to olestra-containing products that stated: “This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients.”
This carefully crafted statement was the result of a tedious push and pull between FDA and P&G. Two key words that didn’t ultimately make the cut were “anal” and “leakage.”
But even as the complaints piled up confirming this warning, the agency chose to drop the labeling requirement in 2003. While still illegal in Canada, the European Union and many other parts of the world, olestra continues to be used in some products like Lay’s Light Original Potato Chips. In 2006, the Center for Science in the Public Interest threatened a lawsuit against P&G. They settled when the company agreed to relabel its olestra-containing products.
The new label came to the attention of a Reddit Wiki user with a golden pen, who goes by the handle Leadstripes. In an archived discussion, Leadstripes discusses what the label discloses:
…in tiny print you can’t read without a f--king electron microscope that the primary ingredient is something called ‘olean’ which I have since learned is Latin for ‘Unwashable & Indestructible Ass Grease.’ So today, while I'm standing in the living room debating whether laundry or dishes will get done first, I get the urge to fart. I live alone, so sweet. I let the honk loose and it’s wrong. Something just sounded wrong. I know my own wind, and I have never farted a sound that sounded like a fart wrapped in a pillow. I had just shat myself. But this evil olean makes shitting yourself sound almost like a regular fart, and had I not been particularly attentive, it could easily have gone unnoticed.
David Kresser, the FDA commissioner who complained of having 150 bosses, declined to comment on olestra, which passed under his watch. But it’s worth noting that it was finally approved a day before B&G’s patent was set to expire.
That olestra remains on the GRAS list, despite its known side effects, speaks to the inertia that Kresser complained about. A 2011 Purdue study further marginalized olestra, as it demonstrated that while it has no calories, " when rats consumed a fat substitute, learned signals that could help control food intake were disrupted, and the rats gained weight as a result ."
P&G quietly phased out its line of Lay's Light Original Potato chips in 2013, but the Unwashable & Indestructible Ass Grease remained available for your consumption via Amazon and Walmart, until existing supplies ran out. Olestra is not currently being used in any food products, but it remains legal.
2. Artificial dyes.
While olestra was something of a sputtering flash in the pan, artificial dyes have been around for decades. This broad category is composed of several families of chemicals, some of which are more benign than others. But unlike olestra, even the worst of these can lurk silently in your body for years before any effects may be felt.
Azo-dyes, a large class of synthetic dyes used for coloring a wide range of consumer goods, are of particular concern. Yellow #6 and Red #40, for example, which are made from coal tar, break down in your body into aromatic amines, organic compounds that have long been known to be carcinogenic. Occupational exposure to these chemicals may be the cause of around 25 percent of bladder cancers.
If you’ve eaten Starburst candies purchased in the U.S., you’ve eaten these very same dyes. But in the E.U., those bright chewy squares are tinted with natural dyes like carotenes, because azo dyes are banned. This discrepancy points to a subtle, but massive difference in how potentially dangerous ingredients are regulated in Europe compared to the U.S. Across the pond, a rule of thumb called the precautionary principle guides the approval process. It basically means if something might be dangerous, take action.
In the U.S., the approval process is guided by what could stand up in court as proof of guilt. According to former FDA chief Kessler, most decisions at the agency are put off until a lawsuit comes around to break the logjam. The precautionary principle, in all likelihood, keeps certain things out of the food supply that probably wouldn’t have harmed anyone. The U.S. litigation-driven process, meanwhile, probably allows certain unsavory elements into our food that shouldn’t be there.
In the face of mounting evidence against artificial dyes, FDA still isn’t forcing food processors to find less toxic alternatives. Luckily for consumers, the companies themselves are realizing just how bad some of these dyes are, and are switching to natural dyes on their own.
Perhaps the American food system has transformed into a free-market utopia where benevolent companies take action proactively to make their products safer, at their own expense, out of deep concern for their customers. Or perhaps they just don’t want to get sued. There is just so much evidence out there—not just for cancer but also organ damage, birth defects, and hyperactivity—that companies like Nestle, Hershey’s and Starburst parent company M&M/Mars are leading the charge of confection companies moving away from artificial colors to easily available natural alternatives. The writing is on the wall, even if FDA is too impotent to do anything about it.
Luke Haffenden, a flavor chemist in Montreal, doesn’t have an innate fear of hard-to-pronounce ingredients. But he’s well-aware of the potential issues with fake dyes, and hesitates to let his own kids consume products that contain them. Many others in the industry quietly feel the same way, he told me. A dye, by its very nature, he explained, is designed to attach to things and permanently change them.
“In the food industry, in the last couple of years … you go to any of these huge conventions, and a significant portion of companies are manufacturing, selling and or distributing natural color options,” Haffenden explained. “Some of these companies are making lots of noise because they think that it will be a marketing advantage. And some are quietly reformulating and hoping nobody notices.”
The food additive ractopamine, which has been dubbed “FDA approved pork roids,” is banned in Russia and even China—but not here. The chemical, which forces animals to pack on lean muscle mass in their final weeks before slaughter, is illegal in 160 countries.
For those who swing toward the precautionary principle end of the spectrum in their personal consumption decisions, the snubs from Russia and China might be reason enough to avoid ractopamine-fed meat.
Most of the studies on which FDA has based its approval of ractopamine were done by Elanco, the drug’s maker. The majority of these studies focused on its efficacy in promoting lean gains, not safety. The safety data that does exist primarily focuses on the impact ractopamine has on the animals themselves—and finds that yes, it causes major problems. Studies on the impacts of ractopamine on humans, meanwhile, are virtually nonexistent. Instead, safety concerns were apparently outsourced to Canada, as an FDA link brings us to a Health Canada web page.
Health Canada extrapolates that ractopamine-fed meat is safe for humans because it accumulates in very low levels in the animal parts that humans typically consume. The E.U. has chosen to err on the side of caution. But U.S. pork eaters don’t have that choice.
4. Brominated vegetable oil.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is banned in the EU, Japan and elsewhere. In the U.S., BVO is often found in sugary beverages with citrusy flavors like Mountain Dew, where the chemical helps these citrus flavors stay mixed together. Originally developed as a flame retardant, BVO has been used as a food additive since 1958, and spent a decade on the Generally Recognized as Safe list, before being removed in 1970. Although removed from the GRAS list, it has nonetheless been permitted in small amounts. In 2014, PepsiCo announced it would cease adding it to Mountain Dew, but at present it remains an ingredient.
There have been documented reports of people who consume obscene amounts of BVO containing soda (2-4 liters per day) experiencing skin and nerve problems, memory loss and other issues. There is also evidence that bromine, from BVO, can accumulate in the body. But the total body of research on the effects of BVO on human health is small.
While it may be a while until more definitive information is available on the health impacts of BVO, given its typical stomping grounds in sugary beverages, it seems like a no-brainer to avoid those products. Because even if BVO turns out to be completely harmless, the drinks where it’s found are not.
Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a hormone found naturally occurring in the pituitary glands of cows. The functions of this growth hormone include regulating the production of milk. The biotech company Genentech patented a process to produce large quantities of BST in the lab. This product, called rBST (the r stands for recombinant) is banned in Canada, Japan, Israel, the E.U. and many other places out of concerns for both human and animal health.
Cows that are on rBST (also called rBGH) do indeed produce about 10-15 percent more milk, but studies have shown they also have a 25 percent higher chance of developing mastitis, a 40 percent decrease in fertility and a 55 percent increase in the likelihood of becoming lame.
The human health impacts are less conclusive, but nonetheless concerning. Milk from rGBH-treated cows has been shown to have higher levels of IGF-1, a growth hormone in humans. The American Cancer Society has determined that more research is needed, but of course, we have no timeline as to when this research might occur. If you’re not comfortable waiting an undefined period of time while researchers figure out just how toxic the stuff is to people and animals, it’s relatively easy to avoid rBST/rGBH, as producers and processors who don’t use it in their milk products tend to make this very clear on their labels.
6. Butylated hydroxytoluene.
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), as well as the closely related butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), are often added to cosmetics and foods to prevent fats from going rancid. They are antioxidants, a buzzword that sports a heath halo these days, but in the case of these two chemicals there may be cause for concern.
Some breakdown products are suspected of being carcinogenic, including by the and the pair have also been shown to impair blood clotting. Banned in Japan, the EU recently lifted its prohibition against it, they remain on the GRAS list in the U.S.
But it’s also worth noting that these compounds are also in use as health supplements, for their antioxidant activity as well as their suspected antiviral activity. Some people use BHT/BHA to treat herpes. It’s also widely used in cosmetics.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has placed it on the “Caution” list, based on the health concerns and because it is so easily replaceable with other preservatives that are proven safe.
If the former FDA commissioners are to believed, until that agency is given the freedom and resources it needs to do its job, there will probably always be some wacky—and potentially dangerous—items on the list of foods that are “generally regarded as aafe.” And even a functioning FDA will probably not be erring on the side of caution, like they do on the other side of the pond.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misstated that BHA and BHT were banned in Europe. In fact, the EU recently lifted its prohibition. It also misstated that olestra remains available in Frito Lay Light potato chips. In fact, olestra is not currently being used in any food products, but remains legal. Thanks to close reader Jill Hamilton for pointing out these errors.
While it's best to avoid black tea as much as possible to prevent staining, there are some benefits for your teeth when it comes to drinking green tea. Fortunately, green tea contains fluoride, which helps build stronger teeth. The antioxidants in the hot beverage have also been said to play a role in better periodontal health, according to a 2012 study.
The European Union prohibits many food additives and various drugs that are widely used in American foods.
Q. What foods are banned in Europe that are not banned in the United States, and what are the implications of eating those foods?
A. The European Union prohibits or severely restricts many food additives that have been linked to cancer that are still used in American-made bread, cookies, soft drinks and other processed foods. Europe also bars the use of several drugs that are used in farm animals in the United States, and many European countries limit the cultivation and import of genetically modified foods.
“In some cases, food-processing companies will reformulate a food product for sale in Europe” but continue to sell the product with the additives in the United States, said Lisa Y. Lefferts, senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food safety advocacy organization.
A 1958 amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from approving food additives that are linked to cancer, but an agency spokeswoman said that many substances that were in use before passage of the amendment, known as the Delaney amendment, are considered to have had prior approval and “therefore are not regulated as food additives.”
In October, the F.D.A. agreed to ban six artificial flavoring substances shown to cause cancer in animals, following petitions and a lawsuit filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other organizations. The F.D.A. insists the six artificial flavors “do not pose a risk to public health,” but concedes that the law requires it not approve the food additives. Food companies will have at least two years to remove them from their products.
Here’s a short list of some of the food additives restricted by the European Union but allowed in American foods. Most must be listed as ingredients on the labels, though information about drugs used to increase the yield in farm animals is generally not provided.
These additives are commonly added to baked goods, but neither is required, and both are banned in Europe because they may cause cancer. In recent years, some American restaurant chains have responded to consumer pressure and removed them from their food.
Potassium bromate is often added to flour used in bread, rolls, cookies, buns, pastry dough, pizza dough and other items to make the dough rise higher and give it a white glow. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it a possible human carcinogen, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the F.D.A. to ban it nearly 20 years ago. The F.D.A. says potassium bromate has been in use since before the Delaney amendment on carcinogenic food additives was passed.
Azodicarbonamide, or ADA, which is used as a whitening agent in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner, breaks down during baking into chemicals that cause cancer in lab animals. It is used by many chain restaurants that serve sandwiches and buns. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has urged the F.D.A. to bar its use. The F.D.A. says it is safe in limited amounts.
The flavor enhancers and preservatives BHA and BHT are subject to severe restrictions in Europe but are widely used in American food products. While evidence on BHT is mixed, BHA is listed in a United States government report on carcinogens as “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen.
On April 22, when President Biden announced his intention to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, he said nothing about how much meat Americans eat. Yet the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, quickly claimed that “Biden’s climate plan could limit you to . . . just one burger a MONTH,” citing “recent studies” that were unrelated to the president’s proposal. Fox News picked up the thread, posting a graphic that said Biden’s plan would “cut 90% of red meat” from American diets.
Days later, the anti-meat conspiracy appeared to deepen when Epicurious, a leading recipe site, announced that it had stopped publishing new beef recipes. And then on May 3, Eleven Madison Park, one of the top restaurants in the world, said it was going vegan. The Wall Street Journal responded to the Epicurious news with a dismissive editorial, writing, “Virtue signaling over red meat won’t make a difference on climate change.”
Observers decried a meaty new front in the culture war. But there was nothing new about it. This was merely the latest eruption in a food-focused battle that conservatives and liberals have been waging intermittently for 50 years — obscuring serious policy discussions about real issues, from obesity to childhood nutrition, along the way.
In the 1970s, beef was among the dietary villains targeted by a “countercuisine” movement concerned about the threats to human and environmental health posed by the industrial food system that had grown up in the decades after World War II. The beef industry denounced the activists as “food faddists” and vegetarian menus as “bizarre.” The fight was on.
In 1988, Rush Limbaugh entered the fray with his nationally syndicated radio show, and he spent more than three decades, until his death in February, wielding food as a cudgel against his political enemies — from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a small Washington food and nutrition watchdog (which Limbaugh said spreads “misery . . . by having you eat basically nothing but tofu and cardboard”), to Michelle Obama (who he said wanted Americans to “eat roots and berries and tree bark”).
When the Democratic proposal for a Green New Deal was announced after the 2018 midterms, a GOP congressman claimed it would make eating a hamburger illegal, and President Donald Trump said there would be “no more cows” if it became law — even though the document said nothing about raising or eating meat.
This latest bout has seemed even more absurd. Larry Kudlow, a Fox Business host and former Trump economic adviser, warned that Biden’s climate plan would leave Americans with no choice on July 4 but to “throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts.” (Do red-meat conservatives drink meat-based beer?) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) dubbed Biden the Hamburglar. And on it went.
What we eat, and don’t eat, has tremendous emotional and symbolic power. It’s one way we tell the world who we are, which tribes we belong to, what we value. For symbolism, few foods rival meat, which has historically been tied to strength, virility and prosperity. Meat generally, and beef in particular, has always been central to aspirational culture in America, in part because it was abundant and cheap in the New World, poor immigrants could aspire to eat like their betters.
In his 2019 book, “Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America,” Joshua Specht writes of “the singular importance of meat, and particularly beef, to nineteenth-century consumers. Its importance ensured abundant demand for beef and explained why Americans rich and poor wanted ever-larger steaks at ever-lower prices.”
Two hundred years later, not much has changed.
Demagogues on the right know that raising the specter of the government — or anyone else — trying to dictate what we eat is a reliable way to whip up supporters against a menacing “coastal elite” perpetually out to take away the “freedoms” of “real Americans.” It is a strategy to defend the status quo without having to contend with the facts — the perfect rhetorical weapon for our feckless age.
On the other side, those advocating a nation of vegetarians aren’t helping. Like snatching a rattle from an infant, it only provokes an even more extreme response. And it’s just not a plausible solution: Most people like meat. It’s a culturally important source of protein, and there is evidence that it played a crucial role in the evolution of modern humans — suggesting that we may still be wired to want to eat meat.
Americans are projected to consume a whopping 224 pounds of poultry and red meat per person in 2021, an amount that has remained mostly unchanged in recent years. That includes 58 pounds of beef — a lot more than one burger a month. And despite the intense media focus on the growth of plant-based meat substitutes from start-ups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, they still make up less than 3 percent of packaged meat sales in the United States. The percentage of folks who identify as vegetarian remains stuck in the low single digits.
Writing about food waste for The Atlantic back in 2014, Elizabeth Segran gestured at both the shoppers who refuse to buy imperfect-looking fruit as well as the grocers who refuse to stock the shelves with any wonky-looking wares. “Grocery stores routinely trash produce for being the wrong shape or containing minor blemishes,” Doug Rauch, the former president of the Trader Joe’s Company, told her.
But that assumes such produce even reaches the stores. Quoting workers and experts at a variety of vantage points in the food system, The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg also reports that, “Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.”
“In my mind, the desire for perfect produce came about in the 1940s as housewives adapted to widespread refrigeration and new CPG [consumer packaged goods] products,” Eve Turow Paul, the author of A Taste of Generation Yum, writes in an email. “Suddenly, you could get a pineapple in Chicago in January. Wonderbread hit shelves a decade before. Perfection and manicured foods came to represent safety and new technology.”
It’s easy to see how this obsession might become amplified in an era of high foodie-ism and Instagram where a sort of heirloom airbrushing has taken hold. Writing in The Times in 2014, Pete Wells christened the extension of this phenomenon in restaurants as “camera cuisine,” where dishes are tailored for the patron as well as a “global club whose members, checking out their phones or laptops, constitute an invisible gallery in the dining room.”
Wells relays a story of being “shutter-shamed” after posting a picture of trout that did not meet a certain communal artistic benchmark. The retail version of this experience might be a farmer’s market where a bunch of ramps or sheaths of leeks would be shunted aside if they couldn’t pass muster on a Nancy Meyers set.
Paul pushes back against the idea that the anointed few seated at the head of the table might be oblivious to the cause of food waste. “Especially in the last year, ‘foodies’ and chefs have catapulted the issue of food waste into popular conversations,” she adds, naming initiatives by chefs and public intellectuals such as Dan Barber and Roy Choi as well as the pu pu platter of coverage of the issue in elite food magazines.
Last year, the Obama administration announced a public-private campaign to halve the more than two million calories that Americans waste annually by the year 2030 by focusing on improving food efficiency, recycling, decoding food labels, and finding ways to deliver food to the one-in-six Americans that are hungry. Meanwhile, start-ups like the Bay Area’s Imperfect Produce are starting to deliver ugly but otherwise consumable goods at a discount.
Elsewhere in the world, the tinkering between policy and public education is underway. France has banned supermarkets from throwing away food by directing them to compost or donate all expiring or unsold food. Germany is focusing on the issue in part by reforming expiration dates, which many argue are arbitrary and problematic.
The United States still may have the farthest to go, particularly on a cultural level. “My hope is that as food education proliferates, so will an appreciation for ugly fruits and veggies, biodiversity, local crops, and so much more, all of which can help mitigate food waste,” Paul adds. “Wouldn't it be neat if the power of Instagram was used to share recipes for carrot top pesto and food scrap stock? Or if we had easy-to-use apps for sharing extra produce with neighbors or food pantries? Both ideas I've already seen foodies fiddling with.”
Also from Morocco: Rose water, grains.
If you want the taste of a full leg of Spanish ham but can’t quite angle that hoof into your suitcase, pick up some offcuts of jamon instead. You can find the chewy, dark ham shards in little cones on Spanish market stalls.
Also from Spain: Anchovies (boquerones), sea salt, manzanilla sherry.
Also from Italy: Local ham, fresh pesto, grappa.
You can pick up great coffee pretty much across the globe, but we think this particularly potent rocket fuel deserves its moment in the spotlight. In line with tradition, serve it unfiltered.
Also from Turkey: Pomegranate molasses, spices.
Also from Greece: Feta, capers, olive oil.
Also from France: Regional cheese, wine, fleur de sel.
Make sure you treat yourself to our top 10 foodie things to try in Paris.
Many budget airlines don’t provide food, but you’re free to take on your own as sustenance. Be sure to check invidividual airlines for terms – for instance, Ryanair don’t allow any hot drinks on board – and remember that only liquids purchased after security will be allowed on board. Finally, try to avoid anything strong-smelling that may offend fellow passengers!
Do you always bring food back from holiday? We’d love to hear the weird and wonderful things you’ve nestled into your suitcase. If you’re still planning a getaway, visit our travel section for inspiration.