Ingredient: Potassium bromate (AKA brominated flour)
Found in: Rolls, wraps, flatbread, bread crumbs and bagel chips
Why the U.S. allows it: This flour-bulking agent helps strengthen dough, reducing the amount of time needed for baking, which results in lowered costs, Calton explains.
Health hazards: Made with the same toxic chemical found in BVO (bromine), this additive has been associated with kidney and nervous system disorders as well as gastrointestinal discomfort. “While the FDA has not banned the use of bromated flour, they do urge bakers to voluntarily leave it out,” Calton says.
Found in: Breads, frozen dinners, boxed pasta mixes, and packaged baked goods
Why the U.S. allows it: While most countries wait a week for flour to naturally whiten, the American food processors prefer to use this chemical to bleach the flour ASAP.
Health hazards: It’s not enough to just ban this product in Singapore. You can get up to 15 years in prison and be penalized in fines of nearly half a million dollars for using this chemical. It has been linked to asthma and is primarily used in foamed plastics, like yoga mats and sneaker soles.
Ingredients: BHA and BHT
Found in: Cereal, nut mixes, gum, butter, meat, dehydrated potatoes, and beer
Why the U.S. allows it: “Made from petroleum [yummy!], these waxy solids act as preservatives to prevent food from becoming rancid and developing objectionable odors,” Calton says. A better solution may be natural rosemary and sage. In a 2006 study, some organic herbs and spices proved to be efficient at preventing oxidative decay in meat, which ultimately could improve the shelf-life of these products.
Health hazards: California is the only state that recognizes the U.S. National Institute of Health’s report that BHA is may be a human carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent.
Ingredients: Synthetic hormones (rBGH and rBST)
Found in: Milk and dairy products
Why the U.S. allows it: Gotta keep moo-ving things along. Dairy farmers inject cows with genetically engineered, growth hormones to boost milk production by about 10 percent, according to Calton.
Health hazards: “Cows treated with these synthetic hormones often become lame, infertile, and suffer from inflamed and infected udders,” Calton says. Humans, who consume these cows byproducts, are in no better shape. She adds, “The milk is supercharged with IGF-1 (insulin growth factor -1), which has been linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers.”
Found in: Poultry
Why the U.S. allows it: Big brother FDA permits arsenic in chicken feed to promote growth, improve efficiency in feeding the birds, and boost pigmentation. “The arsenic affects the blood vessels in chickens and turkeys, causing them to appear pinker and, therefore, fresher,” Calton says.
Health hazards: The European Union has outlawed the use of arsenic since 1999, Calton says, and the Environmental Protection Agency classifies inorganic arsenic as a “human carcinogen.” Take matters into your hands by sticking to organic birds only.
UPDATED APRIL 2014
Ingredients: Diphenylamine (aka DPA)
Found in: Apples, apple juice, applesauce, pears, and baby food
Why the U.S. allows it: That glossy sheen that gives apples their come-hither look might as well have been put there by Snow White’s evil stepmother. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) just deemed this coat, which seals in DPA (a mixture of chemicals that protect the fruit from blackening or browning during long months in storage), as poison. “DPA is what lets us buy apples any time of the year, especially in this country, even though they are harvested in the fall,” says Alex Formuzis, a vice president at the Environmental Working Group. DPA has been used in the U.S. since 1962.
Health hazards: One of the issues with DPA is that the chemicals can break down and form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic, Formuzis explains. Further research is needed to prove that DPA isn’t cancer-causing but until then, the EFSA is saying no to DPA.
By Cristina Goyanes