Here is a look at a few of the more controversial and widely used American food additives that are banned elsewhere.
Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
What is it?: A stabilizer and emulsifier used to prevent separation of citric oils from the drink they are flavoring.
Where it's found: Many citrus-flavored soft drinks, including Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Squirt and Fanta.
Not eligible for use in: European Union, India and Japan.
Concerns: A 2011 article in Scientific American noted that a few patients who binged on soda "have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine." The story also reported that "other studies suggest that BVO could be building up in human tissues. … In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems."
The FDA says: "Interim" use at up to 15 parts per million has been permitted since the 1970s, "pending the outcome of additional toxicological studies." The FDA will not say if those tests were ever performed. Asked about the long-standing interim status, the agency said, "FDA prioritizes its rulemaking in a risk-based manner to maximize its resources to protect public health."
Gatorade says: "We take consumer safety and product integrity seriously, and we can assure you that Gatorade is safe. As standard practice we constantly evaluate our formulas and ingredients to ensure they comply with federal regulations and meet the high quality standards our consumers and athletes expect."
Potassium Bromate (Bromated Flour)
What is it: An oxidizing agent that enhances the performance of flour, making the dough stronger and rise faster. Also often used in permanent wave solutions.
Where it's found: The American Bakers Association said most members have stopped using potassium bromate, but it still is found in some bread products. New York Flatbreads is one brand that lists bromated flour as an ingredient.
Not eligible for use in: Canada, the United Kingdom and China, among other countries.
Concerns: "Although adverse effects are not evident in animals fed bread-based diets made from flour treated with KBrO3, the agent is carcinogenic in rats and nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys) in both man and experimental animals when given orally," scientists wrote in Environmental Health Perspectives in 1990.
Bromate is considered a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is classified as a carcinogen in California.
The FDA says: The agency has encouraged manufacturers to stop using bromated flour but has not banned it. "Provided industry is complying with good manufacturing practices, residual bromate does not pose a public health hazard," said Dennis Keefe, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety. "Furthermore, recent label surveys indicate that the ingredient is no longer widely used by the baking industry."
The industry says: Companies that use bromated flour list it among the ingredients and use it according to FDA guidelines that theoretically leave less than 20 parts per billion in the finished product.
What is it: Food uses include bleaching, aging and improving flour. Also often used in foamed plastics.
Where it's found: Some brands of soft, white sandwich bread and many fast-food burger buns, including those at McDonald's and Burger King.
Not eligible for use in: Australia and Europe. In Singapore, use can result in up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of $450,000.
Concerns: The United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive said "the effects of exposure to azodicarbonamide in humans have not been fully evaluated, although evidence for respiratory sensitisation has been found in bronchial challenge studies and workplace health evaluations." The chemical also can break down to form semicarbazide (SEM), considered a carcinogen in mice.
The FDA says: The agency has "found concentrations of SEM in a limited survey of domestic bread and bakery products … indicative of azocarbonamide concentrations in excess of the 45 ppm regulatory limit in flour." The agency "has contacted the baking industry to identify production changes aimed at reducing SEM levels and potential consumer exposure and has recently initiated another survey of bread and bakery products."
McDonald's says: Azodicarbonamide "is used by McDonald's bakery suppliers in the United States, Canada and Latin America to help make the quality of their bread more consistent within each and every batch. ... All of our food ingredients in the U.S. comply with federal food laws."
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
What are they: Antioxidants used to slow the spoilage of certain fats and oils in food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
Where they are found: Processed butters, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, vitamins, dehydrated potatoes and beer, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Not eligible for use in: European cosmetics.
Concerns: The National Institutes of Health said that although studies show BHA can induce cancer in rats, existing scientific literature is "inadequate to evaluate the relationship between human cancer and the exposure specifically to BHA." California classifies BHA as a carcinogen. The FDA noted that a 2000 study found consumption of BHA and BHT does not increase people's risk of stomach cancer and may actually reduce it. The National Institutes of Health also says BHT is linked to liver enlargement.
FDA's position: The agency's select committee on food additives called in the 1970s for research on potential health risks. The agency did not respond to questions about whether studies were ever conducted.
Food manufacturer Kellogg says: "BHT is a common preservative, approved by the Food and Drug Administration," spokeswoman Kris Charles wrote. "Only the smallest amounts necessary are added to either the package liner or the food itself to preserve flavor and freshness of our products." - Chicago Tribune