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80% of Packaged Foods in the US are BANNED Elsewhere: Here’s WHY & the LIST

Research shows that around 80% contain chemicals banned elsewhere due to health risks. Let’s explore this issue that impacts public health, farmer livelihoods, and animal welfare.

Many additives in US foods like artificial hormones, chlorine washes, and chemical dyes are restricted abroad but not federally in the USA, leading to calls for greater oversight of food production.

Keep reading to see the list of the most commonly banned US foods in other countries!

Why Are So Many US Food Ingredients Banned Abroad?

Walk down a typical American supermarket aisle and you’ll see familiar brands like Cheese-Its, Froot Loops, and Oscar Mayer hot dogs. But customers in Europe and Japan would find some shocking differences in common products.

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This is because as revealed by the book Rich Food Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System (GPS) by Mira Calton and Jayson Calton, approximately 80% of packaged foods in the US contain ingredients that are banned, restricted, or not approved in other developed countries. The list includes:

  • Synthetic growth hormones like rBST in dairy
  • Chlorine washes for poultry
  • Azodicarbonamide in breads
  • Brominated vegetable oil in citrus sodas
  • Potassium bromate in products like pizza dough
  • BHA, BHT, and other preservatives linked to health issues
  • Food dyes like Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6

So why are these common food additives rejected elsewhere but not regulated in the US? It comes down to our highly consolidated corporate food system and differences in oversight approach between the FDA and abroad.

The FDA’s Stance on Food Additive Safety

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems additives like the above safe if used within regulated quantities. Chemicals require pre-market approval, and banned substances are few.

But other developed nations take a more precautionary stance. The EU and UK ban chlorinated chicken not just over health concerns, but also due to animal welfare issues if used to cover up poor production practices.

Studies on common food dyes have led to EU bans due to links to hyperactivity in children. And the EU restricts antibiotic and hormone use in livestock over resistance and carcinogen concerns.

At the end of the day, the FDA seems to focus on the probability of harm. But abroad, if there’s any possibility of harm, especially in non-essential additives, ingredients get restricted.

Big Food’s Influence on the American Diet

Why does the US allow additives largely banned or restricted elsewhere? Part of the story is the powerful food industry here.

A few giant conglomerates dominate every sector from seeds to slaughterhouses. For example, just four companies control over 80% of US beef processing. This consolidation leads to lobbying influence on regulations and policy.

During recent election cycles, the food industry spent hundreds of millions on contributions and lobbying. And Big Food money overwhelmingly flows to one party. So reforms face significant obstacles.

This lack of choice and competition breeds the unhealthy status quo of overly processed foods packed with substances raising questions abroad.

Foods and ingredients banned in other countries

Several popular U.S. foods and ingredients are banned or heavily regulated in other countries due to health concerns, differing food safety standards, and other factors.

Here’s a list of some of the U.S. foods that are banned in other countries:

  1. Gatorade:
    • Prohibited in certain European nations due to the inclusion of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) and dyes like Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, which have been linked to health hazards.
  2. Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls:
    • Restricted or disallowed in numerous European countries due to detrimental food colorings and components such as palm oil and high-fructose corn syrup.
  3. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes:
    • Excluded in the EU and Japan if they contain BHT, a preservative associated with certain types of cancer.
  4. Skittles:
    • Forbidden in Austria, Sweden, and Norway due to the dyes Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, which necessitate a warning label in other EU nations.
  5. Tostito’s Salsa con Queso dip:
    • Disallowed in Austria (Yellow 5) and Sweden (Yellow 6), with both colorings banned in Norway.
  6. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese:
    • Prohibited in select countries due to synthetic food dyes, although a distinct version is available in the UK and other British Commonwealth nations without these dyes.
  7. Mountain Dew:
    • Disallowed in some European countries due to BVO and Yellow 5 dye.
  8. Blueberry and Wild Berry Pop-Tarts:
    • Barred in Norway due to Blue 1 dye, although the prohibition has been lifted in most EU countries.
  9. Many U.S. Bread Products:
    • Prohibited in a variety of countries due to azodicarbonamide, a dough enhancer associated with asthma and potential carcinogenic effects, and potassium bromate, known for making bread softer but identified as a carcinogen.
  10. Boxed Mac and Cheese:
    • Not allowed in Austria, Norway, and some other European nations due to harmful food dyes like Yellow #5 and #6 which may lead to hyperactivity, elevated cancer risk, and allergic responses.
  11. Ractopamine (a feed additive):
    • Excluded in over 160 countries including China, Russia, and several across Europe as it’s utilized to promote weight gain in pigs, cattle, and turkeys but has negative impacts on animals.

It’s noteworthy that while some of these foods or ingredients are banned outright, others may simply carry warning labels or have restrictions in certain countries.

Impacts of Banned Additives on Health and Ethics

So besides the obvious safety concerns, do ingredients banned abroad really matter? Let’s dig into some of the issues and impacts:

Public Health

Studies link many common chemicals like artificial hormones and dyes to higher risks of cancer, nerve damage, vision issues, asthma, and more. And overconsumption of heavily processed foods likely contributes to disease epidemics like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

For example, the additive potassium bromate used in products like bread rolls is a suspected carcinogen banned in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. However, American companies use it to reduce baking times.

Likewise, the UK bans chlorine washes for poultry over health concerns. Yet US producers use it as an end-process sanitizer, covering up poor practices.

Animal Welfare

Restricted antibiotics and growth hormones allow more humane livestock conditions abroad. But American factory farms pump animals full of drugs and chemicals.

For instance, ractopamine is a drug banned in 160 countries, but used in 60% of US pork. It artificially enhances lean muscle mass but has devastating effects on pigs.

Chlorinated chicken baths also raise ethical concerns. As do cramped, filthy quarters and other problematic practices the washes are seen to enable.

Local Food Systems

Lax additive rules also prop up the consolidated corporate food system. This squeezes out smaller producers, limits consumer choice, and hurts local economies.

Just a few giant retailers like Walmart and Kroger control most of America’s groceries. And small farmers suffer as suppliers pay them less but sell processed foods at high margins.

Strict standards abroad encourage more regional, sustainable models. But lobbyist influence maintains the unhealthy status quo here.

Farmers and Rural Communities

Industrial practices like concentrated confined feeding operations wreck nearby communities. Family farms struggle to stay afloat on thin margins, propped up by subsidies.

Foreign bans on additives like ractopamine reduce animal suffering. But American livestock farmers are stuck using questionable drugs that squeeze out more weight.

Agricultural runoff from crops like heavily subsidized corn also creates environmental issues. But reforms again run counter to powerful industry interests.

What Can We Do About Banned Ingredients?

Clearly, common additives banned or restricted abroad raise issues around public health, ethics, local economies, and more that impact us all.

While individuals can try to cut down on processed foods and buy from local suppliers who avoid additives, the system needs real change.

We must push the FDA to review its stance on substances banned elsewhere for good reason. Public and environmental health should come before industry lobbying.

And we need political leadership that confronts undue corporate influence on food policy. Reduced consolidation and subsidies for healthier production models are key reforms.

The use of banned additives in 80% of packaged foods shows we urgently need an American food system aligned with our values.


Approximately 80% of common packaged foods in the US contain additives banned or restricted abroad.

Dubious ingredients like synthetic growth hormones, chemical washes, and dyes raise health and ethical concerns. But powerful industry interests influence policy.

We must push the FDA and leadership for reforms that put public and environmental health first. And support sustainable local food models using humane production practices.