London — From baguettes to focaccia, Europe is known for its bread. But there is one ingredient that is conspicuously missing: potassium bromate. It is a suspected carcinogen that is banned for human consumption in Europe, China and India, but not in the United States.
In the US, the chemical compound is used by some food manufacturers, usually in the form of fine crystals or powder, to strengthen dough. It is estimated to be present in over 100 products.
“There is some evidence that it can be toxic to human consumers, that it can even initiate or promote tumor development,” Professor Erik Millstone, an expert on food additives at England’s University of Sussex, told CBS News. He said European regulators are taking a much more cautious approach to food safety than their US counterparts.
When asked whether it can be said with certainty that regulatory differences mean that people in the US have developed cancers that they would not have developed had they eaten exclusively in Europe, Millstone said this was “almost certainly the conclusion we could draw .”
It’s not just potassium bromate. A range of other chemicals and substances banned in Europe due to health concerns are also allowed in the US, including titanium dioxide (also known as E171); Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) (E443); Potassium bromate (E924); Azodicarbonamide (E927a) and Propylparaben (E217).
Millstone, who has spent nearly half a century researching food and agricultural science, said most Americans were probably completely unaware that they were exposed daily to substances in their food that are considered dangerous in Europe.
“They’re probably just thinking, ‘Well, if it’s available or in stores, it’s probably fine,'” he said.
In a statement to CBS News, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said all food additives require “pre-market evaluation” and “regulation requires proof that any substance is safe at its intended use level before it can be added to foods.”
“Post-approval, our scientists will continue to review relevant new information to determine whether there are any safety concerns and whether the use of such a substance is no longer safe,” the agency added.
Stacy McNamara is from upstate New York, but has lived in London for ten years. She said raising children in the UK had opened her eyes to what is allowed in food in the US
McNamara has no plans to ever move back home, and she told CBS News that food safety was “definitely” part of that decision.
In a statement to CBS News, the FDA said that when used properly, potassium bromate converts to a harmless substance during food production.
However, the FDA acknowledged that not all compounds used in a given recipe can be converted during the manufacturing process, but control measures are in place to minimize the amount in final products.
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