10 things Americans eat that are banned elsewhere

Could a trip to the grocery store make you sick?
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

What's really in your food?

We may live in the "land of the free" and the "home of the brave" but America's national anthem might need a tweaking to include lyrics like "home of banned foods." That's because the shelves and refrigerated sections of our local grocers are stocked with foods that scientists and health officials across the pond and around the world wouldn't dream of letting cross their residents' lips.

But here in America, going grocery shopping gives new meaning to the term "food poisoning" since several staples in the American diet contain chemicals, additives and ingredients banned by China, Australia, the European Union and other countries. Here's a look at some of the most notorious foods and food additives available in America but banned elsewhere.

-- By Gina Roberts-Gray for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 12 Mother and son in grocery store (Hybrid Images/Getty Images)

rBGH and rBST

Given to dairy cows by injection, these growth hormones increase milk production. Approximately one in six U.S. dairy cows are repeatedly injected with growth hormones. “Over 70% of the antibiotics used in this country are used in animal food production to keep the animals healthy due to confined or intensive operations and because it promotes faster growth of the animal,” says Mira Dessy, a nutrition educator in Houston. Boosting milk production via growth hormone can increase the need cows will have to be treated with antibiotics for inflammation of the breast tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, the increased use of antibiotics to treat this type of rBGH-induced inflammation "does promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the extent to which these are transmitted to humans is unclear."

Milk from cows treated with rBGH has a significant increase of the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which has been linked to breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. And rBGH and rBST can also show up in products like sour cream made with hormone-induced cow's milk.

Where it's banned: Australia, New Zealand, Israel, EU and Canada

2 of 12 Glass of milk (Image Source/Getty Images)


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are widely used preservatives that prevent oils in foods from becoming rancid. “BHT is a waxy preservative in cereal, nut mixes and bubble gum,” says Rachel Greenberger, director, Food Sol at Babson College. It’s also known to cause cancer in rats. And according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program's Twelfth Annual Report on Carcinogens (2011), BHA "is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen ....." BHA is also suspected of triggering allergic reactions and hyperactivity.

Where it's banned: The UK doesn't allow BHA in infant foods. BHA and BHT are also banned in parts of the European Union and Japan.

3 of 12 A mother and baby (Tooga/Getty Images)


The fat substitute found in fat-free chips and fries  packs quite a punch. Not only did a 2011 study from Purdue University conclude rats fed potato chips made with Olean gained weight, there have been several reports of adverse intestinal reactions to the fake fat including diarrhea, cramps and leaky bowels. And because it interferes with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K, the FDA requires these vitamins be added to any product made with Olean or olestra.

Where it's banned: The UK and Canada

4 of 12 Fries and ketchup (FotografiaBasica/Getty Images)

Potassium bromate

Added to breads to help the dough hold together and rise higher, studies have linked this additive to kidney damage and tumors, cancer and damage to the nervous system. It's also credited with thyroid tumors. And the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies potassium bromate as carcinogen possibly cancerous to humans. But that hasn't spurred the FDA to ban the additive in the U.S. In fact, potassium bromate is also approved by the FDA for use in the malting of barley.

Where it's banned: Canada, China and the EU.

5 of 12 Bread (Eriko Koga/Getty Images)


Notoriously poisonous, arsenic has routinely been fed to chickens raised in the U.S. for decades to increase poultry's weight while requiring less feed. Arsenic also helps give meat a healthy-looking color and arsenic-based drugs are also approved by the FDA to treat and prevent parasites in poultry. But a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future says poultry given arsenic-based drugs result in consumers buying packaged meat with high levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.

Where it's banned: The European Union

6 of 12 Chicken dinner (Svariophoto/Getty Images)

Colors and dyes

Boxed mac and cheese, cheddar flavored crackers,  Jell-O and many kids' cereals contain red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6 and/or blue 2, the most popularly-used dyes in the United States. Research has shown this rainbow of additives can cause  behavioral problems as well as cancer, birth defects and other health problems in laboratory animals. Red 40 and yellow 6 are also suspected of causing an allergy-like hypersensitivity reaction in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that some dyes are also "contaminated with known carcinogens.”

Interestingly, food makers like Kraft and Kellogg's tint foods distributed outside the U.S. with paprika extract, beetroot, annatto and other color additives thought to be much safer than the dyes used in the U.S.

Where it's banned: Norway and Austria. And in 2009 the British government advised companies to stop using food dyes by the end of that year. The European Union also requires a warning notice on most foods containing dyes.

7 of 12 Macaroni and cheese (FoodPix/Getty Images)

Brominated vegetable oil

Recently PepsiCo tooted its own horn for removing the additive "BVO" from Gatorade. But the soft-drink giant neglected to mention it still appears in other beverages such as Mountain Dew and Fresca. BVO is also listed as an ingredient in some flavors of Coca-Cola-made Powerade. PepsiCo classifies the ingredient as an "emulsifier," which means it distributes flavor evenly throughout the beverage. So it keeps the Mountain Dew's citrus flavors from collecting at the surface and only being present in the first few sips. But it also contains bromine, an element found in flame retardants.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bromine can also accumulate in fatty tissues, something linked to trouble with thyroid function and may affect the nervous system causing tremors, depression, and confusion. The FDA has flip-flopped on BVO's safety originally classifying it as "generally recognized as safe" but reversing that call now defining it as an "interim food additive" a category reserved for possibly questionable substances used in food. 

Where it's banned: Europe and Japan

8 of 12 Person holding sports drink (PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa/Getty Images)

Doped up meat

In February 2013, Russia issued a long-term ban on U.S. red meat and pork as it contains ractopamine, a muscle enhancer banned in multiple countries including China (the ban only applies to pork) and Russia. “The drug is added to animal feed to promote leanness,” says Dessy. But it’s also linked to hyperactivity, muscle corrosion and adverse effects on the cardiovascular system in humans. “There are some studies which show that it can cause chromosomal abnormalities and behavioral changes,” adds Dessy.

It's not the only drug fed to cows and pigs to increase muscle mass, but it is one of the few fed to animals in the last days before slaughter (to increase its effectiveness). And experts speculate as much as 20 percent of the drug can be present in meat consumers purchase from their local grocer.

Where it's banned: Europe, Russia, mainland China & Republic of China (Taiwan).

9 of 12 Raw meat (John Carey/Getty Images)

Hawaiian papaya

One of the largest crops from the Big Island is genetically engineered, a move supported by the U.S. government. On Wednesday, June 19, 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States supports the use of biotechnology to develop "smart" crops that can withstand disease, droughts and floods.

Scientists tinkered with papaya in an attempt to thwart ringspot virus, a threat that decimated crops in the 1990's. And while genetically engineered papayas are resistant to ringspot, the world doesn't share Kerry's enthusiasm for genetically modified food. Numerous studies have found animals fed genetically engineered foods suffered intestinal damage, bleeding ulcers, kidney and liver disease, and a host of other health maladies.

Where it's banned: The EU, which does not tolerate genetically engineered papaya.

10 of 12 Papaya (Josh Fahler Photography/Getty Images)