EU, US approaches to chemical regulation: Is there middle ground?

June 13, 2014

A large number of chemicals and food additives that are legal in the United States are banned for use in food and beverage manufacturing in some parts of the European Union. But does this mean that U.S. products put consumers at risk?

A large number of chemicals and food additives that are considered safe and are legal in the United States are banned for use in food and beverage manufacturing in some parts of the European Union and have to be specifically mentioned on labels in others. The situation is similar in other manufacturing sectors, such as cosmetics, as well as in agriculture, Business Insider said in a special report on the issue.

But does this mean that U.S. products put consumers, and children in particular, at risk? The answer is complicated and multi-dimensional, the news website claimed. For better or worse, approaches to chemicals appear to be radically different on either side of the Atlantic. In Europe, the driving force that has led to all these bans and restrictions is the so-called precautionary principle.

In the United States, regulators take action only after there is solid scientific evidence of harm. Voluntary measures are also popular among U.S. manufacturers, often as a result of consumer demand to restrict the use of certain chemicals. Many large international companies have banned or limited the use of chemicals that are otherwise allowed in the United States, Business Insider said.

Public pressure appears to have yielded results. The use of bisphenol A in baby bottles was banned following extensive consumer group campaigns, for instance. But it remains questionable whether reliance on consumer awareness is the right approach to chemical safety.

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