Europe has banned many U.S. agricultural practices and products, but apples may be the most shocking to the average American. After all, apple pie and Johnny Appleseed are longtime symbols of America’s old-fashioned goodness and uncomplicated ingenuity. Last month, however, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) effectively banned American apples by restricting the amount of diphenylamine (DPA) on imported apples to .1 parts per million (ppm). Approximately 80 percent of U.S.-grown contain over four times that amount. Thus, American apples do not meet European import standards. But what, exactly, is DPA? It is a substance applied to apples after harvest in order to prevent them from getting brown spots. The EFSA had asked the chemical industry for more information about DPA in 2008. The response the EFSA received ultimately led it to ban its use in Europe and set the .1 ppm restriction for imported apples.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are another example of a practice that is accepted in the U.S. but not in Europe. In 2013, the European Commission put a two-year moratorium on neonicotinoid pesticides for the role they are suspected of playing in honeybee colony-collapse disorder. The U.S., meanwhile, currently uses neonicotinoid pesticides in its most prevalent crops such as corn, soy, cotton, and wheat. Consider, as well, the popular U.S. herbicide Atrazine. Atrazine is a potent endocrine disruptor. Extremely low doses have been linked to an array of reproductive problems in humans and amphibians. Used mainly on corn, the European Union banned it in 2004 for its insidious and incessant ability to contaminate groundwater. (Groundwater commonly leaches out of farm fields and eventually makes it into humans’ drinking water.) Finally, one would be remiss, here, in not adding GMOs to the banned-in-Europe list.
Europe takes issue not only with U.S. crops but with its livestock as well. The feed of U.S. pigs, turkeys, and chicken, for example, usually has arsenic additives. Arsenic makes the animal grow faster and gives its meat a rosy pink color. Though arsenic is put into the feed in a harmless-to-humans organic form, it changes very quickly to a poisonous-to-humans inorganic form. Last year in the U.S., the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy all got together and filed a lawsuit against the FDA, demanding that it ban arsenic. Arsenic-based feed additives have been banned in the European Union since they came on the scene.
Meanwhile, the manure from poultry eating arsenic-laced feed, plus feathers, bedding material, and spilled feed, is given to cows. “Poultry litter,” as it is called, is the stuff that accumulates on the building floors where turkey and chicken are housed. While this tidbit of information in and of itself is more that mildly distressing, it is actually the spilled chicken feed part that Consumers Union is especially worried about. This is because chicken feed contains bone meal and meat from dead cattle, and this raises concerns about mad cow disease. In 2001, Europe banned all forms of animal protein from cow feed.
And, of course, there are the growth hormones that are administered to U.S. livestock. Ractopomine, in particular, is fed to 60 to 80 percent of American hogs. It mimics stress hormones, so not only does it make the animal miserable and cause injuries as well as ailments, traces of ractopomine routinely end up in the meat humans eat. Europe has banned domestic of ractopomine and does not allow meat to be imported from animals treated with it. Because there are so many foods, chemicals, and agricultural practices that are accepted in the U.S. but banned in Europe, the phrase as American as apple pie still stands. It just means something different than it used to.
By Donna Westlund