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Food Health and Diets USA vs Europe

Updated on May 31, 2017
Nathanville profile image

My interest in social and cultural politics extends from my interest in genealogy and history, and how they project to today's Societies.

British egg and chips, served with baked beans, cheese and tomatoes.
British egg and chips, served with baked beans, cheese and tomatoes.

My Awareness

Potential Food Safety Issue in American Food?

I first became aware of the potential health issues with American food when negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), started between the USA and EU in July 2013, was faltering. It was at this time I started to look at some of the major issues, and discovered health and safety concerns with American foods to be one of the stumbling blocks in the negotiations.

As a Brit, food standards in the USA has no direct effect on me, and although I’m not a health freak I do find this subject is of particular interest in that I am a vegetarian, and I do like to eat healthily. In that respect I was keen to look into this subject purely on an academic level e.g. out of curiosity.

In looking into this further I was amazed to discover the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) apparently take a stance that food products should only be banned when they are proven to be harmful. In contrast the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) only deem Food safe for human consumption once it has been proven so by independent scientific evidence.

Therefore, having looked at this cold e.g. just from what I’ve gleamed from the Internet (which is not always a reliable source), I am keen to hear the thoughts of Americans.

10 American Foods That Are Already Banned in Other Countries

What Are the Issues?

In browsing through all the documentation on the European Parliament’s website I came across a number of interesting issues relating to food health risks including:-

  • Genetically Modified Foods
  • Oysters
  • Apples, and
  • E-numbers

Genetically Modified Foods

Personally, I don’t at this point have any informed opinions on GMC. However, under European Law GMCs are illegal.

Oysters

This maybe something of nothing, and I understand that the differences may have been resolved in the negotiations anyway; besides, as a vegetarian it doesn’t concern me as I don’t eat oysters.

The issue revolved around how oysters are tested to ensure they are not contaminated with deadly bacteria.

In the EU it’s the oysters that are tested, while in the USA it’s the water they live in; obviously random sample testing rather than testing every oyster or every drop of water. I don’t have any strong views on which methodology is the more reliable; I guess for many people it’s something that’s open to debate.

Apples

This is one that does concern me. In Britain fresh apples only keep for a few weeks, maybe longer if you put them in the fridge. So I was shocked to learn that American apples can keep for up to 18 months because they are treated with diphenylamine; a toxin which is banned in the EU.

American Apples Banned in Europe

The Importance of Labelling

Do You Read Food Labels?

See results

E-numbers (Additives)

E-numbers is very important to EU consumers in that it enables us to easily find out for ourselves exactly what's in the food just by looking up the E-number; any at the same time and potential side effects, and what the safety limits are.

However, for any trade deal with America, Additives on food labelling for the American market can't be listed by their E-numbers. The proper name has to be shown, regardless to how long and meaningless that may be e.g. Carboxymethylcellulose instead of E466.

E-numbers is a comprehensive list of all food additives, which have been extensively tested and proved save for human consumption within the EU, and includes:-

  • Antioxidants
  • Colours
  • Emulsifiers
  • Flavour
  • Preservatives, and
  • Sweeteners

For example E161g is Canthaxanthin, a naturally occurring colour in many plants and birds e.g. mushrooms and flamingos, which is used for orange food colouring in food production. There is no known side effects in small doses, but can cause eye problems if taken in concentrated form e.g. in tanning pills.

Food additives are listed under their E-numbers, as ingredients on the food label, rather than under their common name. This makes it easier for the British pubic in that it’s easier to remember and look up a simple number rather than some long complex name. So if a particular person has an allergy to a particular E-number they can look out for it on the foods packaging and avoid buying foods with that E-number.

The list of E-numbers is constantly changing as ingredients subsequently found to be toxic are removed and new ingredients are added.

Currently there’s about 270 items listed, with any additive not on the list as not being permitted in food production. The main reasons why a substance is not listed as an E-number includes:-

  • It’s not yet been tested and proved safe
  • It’s been removed from the list because new evidence shows it to be unsafe, or
  • It’s banned because it’s a toxin considered too unsafe for human consumption

The main issue with the TTIP negations in this respect from the EUs view point is that over 1,000 of the additives used in American food production for colouring, flavouring, and preservatives are substances banned in the EU; diphenylamine in apples being just one example. Another issue is that the FDA will not accept the import of any foods from the EU if ‘Additives’ are listed under their E-number on the label rather than by its full name e.g. Carboxymethylcellulose instead of E466.

It’s not uncommon for British food producers to avoid using E-number additives for flavouring and colouring; as they can then label their product as containing ‘No artificial colours’ and ‘No artificial flavouring’; which is always a good selling point in the UK.

E-Numbers Explained

The Health Dangers of Refined Foods

One thing I am aware of is the harm refine foods can have on health and welfare. There is a greater awareness of this in Europe, and while many chemicals in processed foods known to be toxic are banned in the EU, these same chemicals seem to be prevalent in American processed foods.

Dangers of American Processed Foods Explained

USA vs UK Foods

Having got interested in the subject I then began to take an interest in what Americans thought of British food; specifically by looking for feedback from Americans visiting and living in Britain; the prime source being YouTube.

One thing that became clear is that opinions are mixed; obviously because everyone’s tastes are different. However certain themes did become prominent, namely:-

  • British food doesn’t keep so long
  • British food tends to be more bland
  • The difference in choice of food products
  • Food cheaper in British supermarkets, and
  • British chocolate far superior to American candy

UK vs USA Grocery Stores

Shorter Shelf Life of British Food Products

That doesn’t surprise me. Not only are a lot of preservatives used in American foods banned in Britain but also the British public are more inclined to buy food that is more natural; rather than products packed with loads of Additives.

A prime example for me is Crumpets, which I love as a treat; usually 6 or 8 in a pack. The only problem is that, even though I keep them in the fridge, if I don’t eat them within 48 hours they start to go mouldy.

Bland Food

It’s a question of what you’re used to.

Ever since I’ve been married we’ve never added salt to our cooking, and apart from chips don’t put salt on our food (chips being the British word for fries). The reason we’ve chosen not to use salt is that there’s too much salt in processed food, so even without adding any additional salt to our diet we still exceed the recommended daily requirement. So it’s a decision on health grounds in that too much salt in the diet can raise blood pressure and cause other health issues.

It’s something we’ve become accustom to, and as I grow and cook our own vegetables we can enjoy the full flavour of the food. Whereas now, if we’re invited to a friends for an evening meal, and they’ve used lots of salt then all we can taste is the salt and not the food.

I guess it’s the same with Americans visiting Britain, in that artificial flavouring is used sparingly in British food (compared with America) because of the associated health risks. Therefore, I’m not surprised if some Americans find our food bland; as expressed in some videos on YouTube.

However, to us Brits, it’s full of natural flavour.

Is British Food Really That Bad?

Supermarket Choice

Some Americans on YouTube rave at the choices and price in British supermarkets (compared to back home in America); which if true does surprise me, but not having visited America I’m not in a position to make a judgement.

American Does Price Comparison in British Supermarket

British vs American Chocolate

This is something I can relate to in that British chocolate is inferior to chocolate in mainland Europe; especially Belgium chocolate.

The minimum cocoa bean content in chocolate in mainland Europe is 30%, often higher; whereas in Britain it’s only about 20%.

After seeing some Americans raving about British chocolate on YouTube I did further research. In doing so, I discovered to my surprise that American chocolate (candy) on average contains typically about 10% cocoa bean only; with sugar being the main ingredient.

Cadbury Chocolate: UK vs USA

Although British chocolate is richer than American chocolate, Belgium chocolate is even richer. Therefore, once or twice a year I make a point of nipping over to Belgium (for a day trip) specifically to buy their chocolate, and also other goods that’s difficult to buy in England.

The Chocolate Wars: American vs British Cadbury

Links Between Diet And Health

All Things in Moderation

Most people should be aware that healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle dramatically reduces the risk of many common illnesses, including cancers, diabetes and blood pressure etc.

However, a surprisingly large number of people don’t look after their body; especially in America, from what I can gather.

From what I read on the web, see on the TV and from conversing with Americans on line, I get the distinct impression that:-

  • · American portions are much larger than in Europe.
  • · Americans eat a lot more junk food and fast food.
  • · The American diet is less balanced e.g. higher levels of sugar, salt and fats and less fresh fruit and veg, and fibre.

Although Europeans in many countries do each too much, and often junk and fast foods with high levels of sugar, salt and fats, Europeans in general are more health conscious. So although we do have obesity, diabetes and other health issues related to bad diet, it doesn’t appear to be on the same scale as in America.

To start with we don’t have the ‘Drive-through, and we don’t rush our meals in restaurants. My understanding is that in the fast-pace life of American culture people rush to down large portions of junk and fast foods in typically 20 to 40 minutes. Whereas, in Europe, going to the restaurant is an experienced to be enjoyed, the emphasis being more on enjoying the meal at a social and leisurely pace; typically taking 2 hours, during which time the quantities consumed are modest.

Europeans Are Healthier Than Americans

Preventative Healthcare

Educational Campaigns

In Britain, the strategy of the NHS (National Health Service) is preventative healthcare through education and awareness campaigns. Unlike America, where more patient visits to hospitals (and sometimes unnecessary procedures) means more profits for doctors, specialists and medical insurance companies, in the UK healthcare is free to everybody at the point of use. Therefore, more visits to hospitals for unnecessary preventative illnesses costs more tax payers money e.g. the NHS is funded through taxes.

Therefore, by the NHS actively educating people to eat more healthily and lead healthier lifestyles, reduces to demand for treating preventative illnesses like diabetes due to obesity and poor diets. In conjunction with this as well as the NHS running its own awareness campaigns, such as the well-publicised ‘five a day’ advice (five portions of fruit a day), and plugging the importance of exercise, a number of popular TV channels run their own ‘wellbeing’ documentary series. Two such TV series I and my wife regularly watch are:-

  • Trust Me I’m a Doctor on BBC, and
  • The Food Hospital on Channel 4.

The Food Hospital

In recently discussing these programmes with Americans they said that similar programmes are aired on American TV but are not of such great value because they tend to be sponsored by drug companies who plug their products with an overdose of advertising throughout the series.

In contrast, in Britain, these programmes are hosted by NHS professionals who have no invested interest in plugging any product or service; simply because the NHS is free at the point of use.

Trust Me I'm a Doctor: Trailer

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    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 9 months ago from England

      Thanks for your feedback. We harvest apples from a small apple tree in our back garden every autumn (part of our mini orchard). Because they don’t keep, those we can’t eat within the first month are used to make apple pies, apple sauce and apple wine for the year. If I had the space in our garden shed I could keep them over the winter months provided they were kept cool, dark, dry and vented.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 9 months ago from The Caribbean

      Life in the Caribbean used to be influenced more by the British than the Americans. Not sure who is the major influence now, but we eat more American foods. Yes, the apples we import last almost forever. The British are obviously eating more healthy.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 9 months ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting!