Here are four areas of food production that are more regulated in Europe than in the U.S. We've weighed the evidence on each side so you can make a more informed choice at the supermarket.
In Europe foods containing any of six synthetic dyes linked to behavioral problems in kids must carry the warning "May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." In the U.S., three of the problematic colorings are off the market; the remainder are among a total of eight that the Washington, D.C.–based watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has asked the FDA to ban in the wake of a 2004 analysis and two other studies that determined the dyes increase hyperactivity.
Should you care? The evidence against dyes is fairly strong: Studies dating back to the 1970s show that they can cause behavioral problems in children. "As many as half of all children are just a little sensitive, and a few are very sensitive. But it's hard for most parents to tell just how sensitive their children are," says David Schab, MD, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center and lead author of the 2004 analysis.
Bottom line: Avoid brightly colored processed foods: The dyes in question—yellow 5, red 40, blue 1, blue 2, green 3, orange B, red 3, and yellow 6—turn up in cereals, macaroni and cheese, candy, crackers, tortilla chips, and even children's vitamins. According to CSPI, most of the products sold at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are free of the dyes (you can always check the ingredient labels for the offending colors). You can also use the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Online Brain Food Selector at IATP.org/Brainfoodselector .
Antibiotics in Animal Feed
Since 1998 the EU has prohibited the practice of promoting livestock growth by lacing feed and water with low-dose antibiotics. In the U.S., up to 70 percent of all antibiotics are given to healthy livestock (primarily to promote growth), even though the practice can cause strains of drug-resistant campylobacter (the most common source of bacterial food-borne illness in the U.S.) to turn up in chickens. And MRSA—a potentially deadly, drug-resistant staph bacterium—has been found in the pork on supermarket shelves.
Should you care? Yes, if you want to take a stand against the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections.
Bottom line: Look for the words "no antibiotics added" on labels, and buy only certified-organic meats and poultry.
Next: Genetic modification and irradiation
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