Written by Elise Yang
Reinforced by unlicensed food influencers across social media platforms today, many people have come to the misconception that getting the right nutrients, i.e. eating your greens, fruits, proteins, cutting on carbs every day while staying away from generic “junk foods”, is all you need to maintain a high quality diet. Unfortunately, the lack of food safety procedures and bans particularly in the United States introduces many significant complications to this simple mindset.
Major Differences of Food Inspection Between Europe and America
Food processing in America goes through a centralized federal system split into multiple branches like the FDA and the Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that covers meat, poultry and eggs (New World Report). Meanwhile, all food standard laws for the 27 country members of the European Union are streamlined into the nonfederal European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) (New World Report). Another major difference between the two food inspection systems is that the FDA in America tends to allow additives unless they end up proven to be directly harmful, while Europe strictly discourages the use of all hormones and additives/preservatives unless they are first proven to be unharmful (New World Report). According to Economist Impact, the United States, with its long-established reputation of being an advanced first-world country, only ranked 13th place in the Global Food Security Index 2022. What’s more noteworthy and worrisome is that food fraud, the act of merchandising diluted or subpar food for premium price, has been estimated by Consumer Brand Association to cost the industry up to 15 billion dollars (New World Report). It is clear to see that subpar food standards are a national issue desperately under-addressed today.
Loose Federal Enforcement of Additives, Preservatives, and Other Chemicals
In the midst of our obsession to make simple, delicious, yet “healthy” recipes, there could be about a dozen potentially harmful ingredients creeping in the stock of our kitchens. The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health reports that roughly two out of three American adults are overweight or obese (69%) and one out of the three is predicted to be obese (36%). Due to celebrity and social media influence, the first course of action that comes to mind for weight gain is normally to cut down on “sugar” and “work out more.” However, studies have proven that sometimes despite our best efforts, the lack of body changes can be inadvertently attributed to our well-meaning diet plans designed to target weight loss. This is due to the presence of obesogens found in many consumer products, contaminated products, and even polluted air and water (EWG). Obesogens are a class of chemicals that “directly or indirectly increase fat accumulation and cause obesity” by interfering with metabolic processes, disrupting the hormonal system, changing our response to blood sugar and insulin, and can even affect the functions of several body organs critical to maintaining weight and energy balance, i.e. body fat, the brain, pancreas, liver (MDPI). These chemicals are hidden in plain sight even in “healthy” products like protein bars and vegetarian microwave meals with many artificial ingredients – i.e. sweeteners and flavor enhancers (EWG). Some of them can also turn up naturally in food like fructose, commonly appearing in ingredient labels as high-fructose corn syrup, which accounts for about 40% of the sweeteners we consume (EWG). Obesogenic preservatives like BHA and methyl/butyl paraben can also be found in almost everything from vegetable oils to processed meats (a popular source of protein for your daily sandwich or bagel) (EWG). The lack of oversight from the FDA, resulting in the long chemical compound names found in the ingredient label of a simple breadstick, is certainly concerning to say in the least.
Permitted Hormones in American Livestock
Beef is one of the most popular protein choices in the United States. The USDA had also actually reported that Americans have consumed a whopping 30 billion pounds of beef in 2021, making it about 60 pounds per person a year. However, this common meat item found in almost every average American kitchen may also hold heavy health complications for the general populace. The use of growth hormones in rearing livestock for the purpose of promoting faster weight gain has been outlawed in the European Union since 1989 (Soil Association). Many European countries, such as the United Kingdom, have also outlawed the importation of foreign hormone-treated meats due to health related concerns including but not limited to possible carcinogenic properties and improper antibiotic exposure. In 1999, the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health (SCVMPH) carried out a review on non-organic beef and concluded that estradiol-17β, one of the six hormones commonly used in US beef production, “has to be considered a complete carcinogenic” because it “exerts both tumour initiating and tumor promoting effects” (Soil Association). While the risk factors of the remaining five hormones cannot be reasonably quantified to prove that it inflicts long-term detrimental effects on humans, these data are enough to raise suspicions among European officials since the science is not enough to deem it inviolably safe (Soil Association). A health precaution that has not been given enough attention from the FDA are the prices for organic (untreated, naturally-reared) beef and other meats, which have gone up dramatically.
To end this article, choosing to eat “healthy” with a balanced diet is not all that’s important for your health. Especially in the United States where their food safety standards have lagged behind those of their European counterparts and countries beyond, more caution given to grocery decisions when examining labels clearly, opting for organics and non-GMOs when possible, and being conscious of what you buy will only benefit you down the lane.