Food Babe Investigates: How Food Companies Exploit Americans with Ingredients Banned in Other Countries

Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) is a regular contributor on 100 Days of Real Food. To learn more about Vani check her out on “Our Team” page.

Thoughts of outrage, unfairness, disbelief, and ultimately grief consumed me while I was doing this investigation. A list of ingredients that are banned across the globe but still allowed for use here in the American food supply recently made news. While I have written about some of those ingredients before, this list inspired me to look a little deeper and find out how pervasive this issue is for us. Could these banned ingredients be contributing to the higher mortality and disease rates here in the U.S.?

The health of Americans is downright grim according to a report just released by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. It declares “Americans are sicker and die younger than other people in wealthy nations.” The United States spends 2.5 times more on health care than any other nation, however, when compared with 16 other nations we come in dead last in terms of health and life expectancy for men and near the bottom for women.

Here is the breakdown for you:

  • More than two thirds of United States citizens are overweight – 33% being obese.
  • 32% of children are either obese or overweight.
  • 43% of Americans are projected to be obese in 10 years.
  • After smoking, obesity is America’s biggest cause of premature death and is linked to 70% of heart disease and 80% of diabetes cases.
  • And 41% of Americans are projected to get cancer in their lifetime!

These reports and statistics scream the word HELP!

Recently, I spent some time down in Mississippi volunteering in the most obese county in the nation. I found that while social and economic factors do play a part in this epidemic, the main culprit was the lack of nutrition education. The victims of obesity are likely the same victims of systematic brainwashing from Big Food marketers, relying on diet soda or low fat products or looking only at calories on product labels. Basically, they are doing what the food industry has been teaching them about losing weight versus finding out the truth about real food.

And that’s the problem – the food industry is the one leading our conversation in this country about food and nutrition, educating the mass public about what to eat and what not to eat. Coca-Cola recently even went as far as creating a special campaign to combat obesity – yes you read that right – a sugar filled soda company trying to stop obesity. (You can read my reaction to that here).

Unfortunately, the doctors in this country are not exactly leading the discussion either, since nutrition is not currently a focus in medical school. And the government has their hands tied by big food industry and chemical company lobbyists that basically control what the FDA approves, deems safe for human consumption, and our overall food policy.

So who is going to finally tell us the truth about our food?

The food industry does not want us to pay attention to the ingredients nor do they care about the negative effects from eating them. They certainly don’t care about the astronomical medical bills that are a direct result of us eating the inferior food they are creating.

The HELP we need starts here. We as a collective nation must stop this trajectory of sickness and rising health care costs, by understanding the ingredients we are putting into our bodies. We must challenge the U.S. food industry to discontinue the use of banned ingredients that are not allowed elsewhere in the world. We deserve to have the same quality food without potential toxins.

Food is medicine, and plain and simple, if our food is sick (filled with GMO’s, chemicals, additives, artificial ingredients, and/or carcinogens), collectively we as a country are going to continue to be sick.

Using banned ingredients that other countries have determined unsafe for human consumption has become a pandemic in this country. To prove this point, I found the best and easiest place to look for evidence was just across “the pond” in the United Kingdom, where they enjoy some of the same types of products we do – but with totally different ingredient lists.

It is appalling to witness the examples I am about to share with you. The U.S. food corporations are unnecessarily feeding us chemicals – while leaving out almost all questionable ingredients in our friends’ products overseas. The point is the food industry has already formulated safer, better products, but they are voluntarily only selling inferior versions of these products here in America. The evidence of this runs the gamut from fast food places to boxed cake mix to cereal to candy and even oatmeal – you can’t escape it.


US brands that are reformulated without additives in other countries

Some of the key American brands that are participating in this deception are McDonald’s, Pringles (owned by Kellogg’s), Pizza Hut and Quaker (owned by Pepsi), Betty Crocker (owned by General Mills), Starburst (owned by M&M/Mars), and Ritz Crackers (owned by Kraft). In the examples below, red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.


Betty Crocker Red Velvet Cake Mix Ingredients

Betty Crocker cream cheese icing ingredients

Having a pre-made box of flour, baking soda and sugar all ready to go saves time for some people when it comes to making a cake, but does saving time have to come at the expense of chemically derived and potentially toxic ingredients?

The United States version of Betty Crocker Red Velvet cake not only has artificial colors linked to hyperactivity in children, food cravings, and obesity, but it also has partially hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. trans fat). Trans fat has been shown to be deadly even in small amounts. “Previous trials have linked even a 40-calorie-per-day increase in trans fat intake to a 23% higher risk of heart disease.” This could easily be the amount of trans fat in one serving of Betty Crocker icing alone.

Sodium benzoate is an ingredient that Coca-Cola actually removed in their Diet Coke product overseas, but you’ll still find it in their product Sprite, cake mixes and loads of other products across the USA. The Mayo Clinic reported that this preservative increases hyperactivity in children. Also, when sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it can form benzene, a carcinogen that damages DNA in cells and accelerates aging.


McDonald's french fries ingredients

Fast Food giants like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut are just as guilty as General Mills’ Betty Crocker.

Look closely at the ingredients in McDonald’s french fries above. Do you see how the french fries in the U.K. version are basically just potatoes, vegetable oil, a little sugar and salt? How can McDonald’s make french fries with such an uncomplicated list of ingredients all over Europe, but not over here? Why do McDonald’s french fries in the U.S. have to have TBHQ, trans fat and “anti-foaming” agents? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked – I didn’t think Americans liked foam with their fries either!

The anti-foaming agent – dimethylpolysiloxane – is a type of silicone used in caulks and sealants and as a filler for breast implants. It’s also the key ingredient in silly putty.

Thanks FDA for allowing companies to put silly putty in our french fries. Seriously – this is out of control.


McDonald's strawberry sauce ingredients

McDonalds Strawberry Sauce in the United States includes high fructose corn syrup, red #40 and sodium benzoate, while the citizens of the U.K. get off scot-free. Instead, they get 37% real strawberries in their product and no additional flavoring or harmful preservatives.


Pizza Hut garlic cheese bread ingredients

Pizza Hut does a huge disservice to us (and their workers) by using Azodicarbonamide in their garlic cheese bread. This ingredient is banned as a food additive in the U.K., Europe, and Australia, and if you get caught using it in Singapore you can get up to 15 years in prison and be fined $450,000. The U.K. has recognized this ingredient as a potential cause of asthma if inhaled, and advises against its use in people who have sensitivity to food dye allergies and other common allergies in food, because azodicarbonamide can exacerbate the symptoms. However, Pizza Hut and many other fast food chains like Subway and Starbucks use this ingredient in their U.S. bread products.

Natural and artificial flavors and hidden MSG (in the form of autolyzed yeast extract, in this case) are commonly found throughout products in America but not elsewhere. Junk food companies intentionally add this combination of ingredients to create sensory overload by exciting your brain cells to remember the food you are eating and make less nutritious ingredients taste better to you.

I’m not saying that the food industry has completely eliminated these same tricks abroad – but when you look at the U.K. version of garlic cheese bread, the ingredients look pretty basic. Many of the ingredients you could use at home to make garlic bread. I’ve never found TBHQ in the baking aisle at the grocery store, have you? TBHQ, by the way, is a preservative derived from petroleum and used in perfumes, resins, varnishes and oil field chemicals. Laboratory studies have linked TBHQ to stomach tumors. This preservative is also used by Chick-Fil-A  in their famous chicken sandwiches.


Pringles sour cream and onion chip ingredients

Reviewing the ingredients in Pringles really got me worked up….ever wonder why you can’t stop eating chips after having just one? MSG is the culprit – and in the U.S. version of Pringles, it’s added twice! Once in its known name and again in a hidden source, called “yeast extract.”

This begs the question “Why are Americans so addicted to processed food?!” The food industry has designed it that way on purpose to line their pockets with profits, at the expense of our health.


Ritz Crackers ingredients

The U.K. Ritz Crackers ingredient list resembles items that you’d find in every household around the country – but the United States version goes the extra mile to include trans fat, HFCS and natural flavor. Natural flavor can be also be a hidden form of MSG, which, again, is an additive that will likely make you eat more than you would otherwise.


Quaker Oats strawberry flavor ingedients

In the United States, Quaker Oats has several different flavors of oatmeal that contain different fruit flavored, artificially dyed pieces of dehydrated apple but that don’t actually contain any of the fruit shown on the package. But in the U.K. – they don’t even attempt to sell that garbage. They instead have a product called “Oats so Simple” that actually has REAL strawberries in it – light years ahead of our version that includes trans fat, artificial food coloring, and artificial flavors.


Rice Krispies ingredients

There’s only one difference in Rice Krispies between the U.S. and U.K. version – but it’s a big difference.  It’s one ingredient that is banned virtually in every other country, except here in the United States. That ingredient is called BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) or BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and is a very common preservative used rampantly throughout packaged food in the U.S.

Test studies published by the IPCS (International Program for Chemical Safety) “show tissue inflammation, enlargement, and/or growths in 100%, and cancer in 35% of [animal] subjects” as reported in this article. How can the U.S. allow this chemical in our food – much less in cereal aimed and targeted at our kids?


Starburst Fruit Chews ingredients

And speaking of targeting our kids – food companies have found a way to naturally color candy all over Europe, but our candy here is still full of artificial substances made from petroleum and GMO sugar. Looking at the ingredients in Starburst Fruit Chews provides a great example of this disgrace.


I saved the most startling fact for last. One very cautionary set of ingredients that are included in almost all of the American products but not the U.K. products are GMO’s, in the form of either corn or soy.

There have been no long term human studies on GMOs and preliminary studies on animals show horrific consequences. For instance, a study showed GMOs caused toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. Another study revealed that female rats fed GMO soy for 15 months showed significant health issues in their uterus and reproductive cycle, compared to rats fed organic soy or those raised without soy. A 2009 French Study concluded that Glyphosate (used on GMO soy) can kill the cells in the outer layer of the human placenta, the organ that connects the mother to her fetus, providing nutrients and oxygen and emptying waste products. A Russian study conducted on hamsters that were fed GMO soy diets for two years over three generations found that by the third generation, most of the hamsters lost the ability to have babies, showed slower growth, and suffered a higher mortality rate.


Example UK genetically modified ingredient label

Example UK genetically modified ingredient label

In the U.K. food companies are required by law to list if a certain ingredient is derived from a genetically modified or genetically engineered material on the label. Out of all the products I researched, I couldn’t find one product with this label. (See example from GMO-Compass and BBC above of what it would look like if I did.)

This was very telling considering that not only have food companies taken out all sorts of hazardous chemical ingredients abroad – but they also have willingly reformulated their products without GMOs.

Food corporations in the U.S. claim reformulating their products to remove harmful ingredients or changing labels would be too expensive – but they’ve already done just that in Europe and in many other countries. Their governments listened to the outrage of their people and took the safety of their citizens’ health above everything else. Is it too much to ask the same for us in the United States of America? How much do our sickness, obesity, and mortality rates have to worsen before they respond to us?

I will leave you with this note:  Lisa and I are very disturbed about the shameful hypocrisy allowed to happen with our food supply here in the U.S. In fact we are feeling very compelled to do something about it. Stay tuned, because we are going to need every one of you to help when we are ready. In the meantime, I hope you’ll come check me out at Food Babe and also share this article (you can use the green ShareThis button below).

March 5th Update: Lisa and I have started a petition – please sign and share it now. Together we can make a change.

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at

Vani HariVani Hari a.k.a. Food Babe is an organic living expert, food activist and writer on She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. To follow Vani, check her out on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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  • Comments

    1. Mel Corrigan |

      The fundamental problem is that many people choose to eat processed foods. A chicken or a vegetable (grown in any conventional circumstance) will always be healthier than something on of a box.

    2. |

      I am absolutely ready to help do something about this BS. Before I decide to just up and leave this country where the government so clearly doesn’t care about it’s people. Absolutely fed up.

        • |

          We have left and will probably not return. And, this is not because we don’t love America and don’t miss our family but we have a better standard of living in Europe. We don’t get sick as often. We feel a sense of security. It breaks my heart to read these things because it doesn’t have to be this way and it takes outraged people like these activists who inform the public and wake them up to action. The people have to unite and demand that it be different. Demand to not be poisoned. Demand transparency from their government. Demand justice. It’s what makes America great.

    3. Amanda |

      Great Article! Thank you for doing so much research. Our family has stopped eating most processed food. There are very few things, from a package, that I will let my kids have. We are hoping that if enough families do this, the food companies will get the point. Everyone in my family is healthier, since cutting out processed food. We hardly ever get sick. Its amazing.

    4. |

      I’m an American living in Ireland. It took me about a month to figure out why I couldn’t find hormone-free milk – because there are no hormones in the milk here. I also noticed the lack of HFCS. I was talking to another American who had just moved here and she was saying that things tasted different, and she couldn’t figure it out – I said “It’s all less sweet.” She said “That’s it! But why?” I told her there was no HFCS in anything here. We also noticed food goes bad more quickly here – because there are less preservatives. We’ve gotten used to shopping a lot more, buying less. Heck, the grocery stores in Ireland are a LOT smaller than the standard US stores, because there is less variety.

      At this point, if the EU has banned it, I won’t be using it if we move back to the U.S.

    5. Nadia |

      This is outrageous!! What can we do to make the government pay attention and change their policies? This reminds me of the big tobacco companies and the fight that so many people had to fight to make the government put warning labels on cigarettes and stop marketing to teens. We have a long battle ahead of us!

      • |

        That’s the problem… the government DOES pay attention, they just know that the citizens do not.

    6. Jen |

      Can’t wait to hear your best thoughts on how to effect change.. petition? The evidence is very compelling that things in the US need to change!

    7. Lindsey |

      Wow, I’m horrified! I would really like to eliminate all of this processed ‘food’ from our household but I really don’t know where to start! I worry that it’s too expensive to go the organic route, and how do you prepare quick and easy meals with all fresh ingredients? I REALLY want to try but it seems almost like a losing battle. We don’t eat microwaveable meals, boxed mac and cheese or any of that junk but I would never have considered Rice Crispies bad for my kids health, maybe not super nutritious but better for you than some other cereals. I do buy frozen veggies, frozen stuffed pasta, spaghetti sauce and yogurts etc. I didn’t think that was all that bad, but I can only imagine whats lurking in all that packaged stuff. It’s very scary!

      Any advice on how to go about eating better while on a budget, and as a full time working mommy I need some quick and easy ideas!

      • |

        Crock pots and start slow. I was a full time working mom shortly after the birth of my first daughter. It’s not easy but it can be done. Pick one thing that you’ll start doing. For example, if it’s not financially feasible to throw out your existing food (I wouldn’t either, btw. My Vietnamese mother would have a conniption!) then maybe you’ll start just reading labels. Maybe you’ll begin with eliminating HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). Once you’ve got that down then move to something else. It has taken us many years and it started very slowly. I made my own bread from scratch one afternoon and you’d of thought I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Baby steps :) Good luck.

        • Stephanie LeDuc |

          Once you watch the movie Genetic Roulette, you would throw out all the GMO foods. We did, my best friend has leaky gut, she threw everything out. I love implementing Crock pots! I love making homemade chili on low all day in the crock!!

      • Stephanie LeDuc |

        Hi. I experimented last fall with switching over to organic to see how it would impact my budget. I want to share with you one item in particular that I watched what the difference would be: Honey Nut Cheerios our whole family loved, the big family sized box would last about three days. I now buy an organic cocoa rice cereal-it’s the only one so far my kids will eat-anyhow I’m looking at the price of this koala bag of cereal, $7.00. I stood there, hesitated on buying it, and after buying the one bag, it lasted a whole week. The reason behind this is when our foods are genetically messed with, the more processed it is, the less nutrition it has. If you have watched the movie Food Inc, please watch Genetic Roulette on Youtube. Try to involve as much of your family as you can. It explains in more detail the destruction of what’s going on with our foods and our health. The first time I sat down to this movie, made it through ten min, then twenty, and so on. I have a three year old, makes it hard to do anything just for me. Napping right now-lucky me.

      • Stephanie LeDuc |

        Lindsey, my reply was for you. Also, get on a Bountiful Baskets program. Pinterest has a lot of great recipes as well. My whole point was I find I’m spending exactly the same amount of money on groceries every month since November of 12. The Bountiful Baskets is from local farmers. Local organic veggies and fruits each week is $25 dollars. I encourage everyone to find a Bountiful Baskets program in your area. I save ten dollars a week by doing this program, non profit, and you get about $50 worth of food. Good luck, let us know how and what you’ve noticed. Watch that movie, Genetic Roulette.

    8. Jamie Mead |


      Thank you for your great article. I shared it and am appreciative of your article and all the time that went into the information. If enough of us vote for changes with our dollars eventually they will change! Blessings. . .

    9. |

      This an excellent article, I will share immediately. I love how deep you went with the research. I just posted on Hipmomsgogreen Facebook this morning about a comment that I got from a mom recently, It went like this:
      A Mom said to me about my boys, “I feel so bad for them…”. This is not a first. This is in regards to them not being able to eat the food dye, corn syrup, GMO wheat “treat” that is available. I politely say, ” oh there ok, they are used to it.” Truth is, I do give in to the occasional “junk” (very little). But when I do, “I feel so bad for them…”
      For FB this got my initial thought across but, it goes SO much deeper than this. A lot of the information that you posted above goes through my mind regularly, I teach my children these beliefs, and once you have the knowledge it seems impossible to ignore. I am so happy that we do what we do, educating, and changing lives. Maybe one day we will be the majority and TRUE change will have to come…
      Nickie Knight
      Founder HipMomsGoGreen

    10. jennyh |

      I must say that I am shocked by the ingredigents in our foods today. I am also overwhelmed at the list of ingredients that I need to be aware of. Is there a list of ingredients that I can print off to take grocery shopping with me?

      • |

        The general rule with food ingredients is if you do not know what it is when you read the label, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

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