7 Dangerous Food Practices Banned in Europe But Just Fine in America
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Last year, the European Commission voted to place a two-year moratorium on most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, on the suspicion that they're contributing to the global crisis in honeybee health (a topic I've touched on here, here, here, and here). Since then, several people have asked me whether Europe's move might inspire the US Environmental Protection Agency to make a similar move—currently, neonics are widely used in several of our most prevalent crops, including corn, soy, cotton, and wheat.
The answer is no. As I reported, an agency press officer told me the EU move will have no bearing on the EPA's own reviews of the pesticides, which aren't scheduled for release until 2016 at the earliest.
All of which got me thinking about other food-related substances and practices that are banned in Europe but green-lighted here. Turns out there are lots. Aren't you glad you don't live under the Old World regulatory jackboot, where the authorities deny people's freedom to quaff atrazine-laced drinking water, etc., etc.? Let me know in comments if I'm missing any.
Why it's a problem: A "potent endocrine disruptor," Syngenta's popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people's drinking water.
What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.
US status: EPA: "Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA's periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013."
2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed
Why it's a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn't harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.
What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds "were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries."
US status: The drug giant Pfizer "voluntarily" stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.
3. "Poultry litter" in cow feed
Why it's a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens' guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff "consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys." The "spilled feed" part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed "meat and bone meal from dead cattle," CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.
What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.
US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union's Michael Hansen told me last year.