Subway To Remove Yoga Mat Chemical from Bread: Chemicals Banned in Other Countries That America Still Allows

On Thursday, Subway graciously pledged to remove the chemical azodiacarbonamide from its bread recipe following a campaign led by food blogger Vani Hari. The chemical, added as a dough conditioner, is used to increase elasticity in a number of other products, including yoga mats and rubber-soled shoes. Azodiacarbonamide is approved for use in foods by the USDA and the FDA, despite being banned in the UK, Europe, and Australia.

Subway said in a statement that it has already begun the process of removing the chemical from its bread and will complete the full conversion soon. The chain has recently joined First Lady Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiative and is keen to promote a fresh and healthy image. Removing this ingredient, which those in countries where it's banned claim may be linked to respiratory issues, is certainly a step in the right direction.

But azodiacarbonamide is not the only ingredient that we regularly consume in the U.S. despite bans in other countries. Here are some of the most common offenders.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


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BANNED IN: The EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada

Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is often found in non-organic dairy products. In fact, if the product doesn’t contain rBGH it’s likely to boast about it on the label, so that’s a good way to find out.

rBGH is injected into cows to boost milk production by 10 to 15 percent. It can cause serious health problems for the cow, including a painful bacterial infection in the udder, reproductive problems, and premature death.

It’s not exactly known what the effect is in humans of consuming dairy products from cows injected with rBGH. But the health complications in the animal are often treated with antibiotics, which opens up a whole host of other problems.


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BANNED IN: More than 100 countries, including the EU, China, and Taiwan

Yep, I’d never heard of it before either. I’ve almost certainly eaten it though. Ractopamine is a drug used on pigs, turkeys, and cattle to increase weight gain and leanness in their meat. Estimates say up to 80 percent of pigs in the U.S. are fed the drug and, unsurprisingly, their meat is tainted with it as a result.

Health issues observed in pigs include trembling, hyperactivity, the inability to walk, and death. Not a lot of research has been done on its effect on humans, but one of the six healthy men they tested it on had to be pulled out of the study because his heart started pounding abnormally.

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)

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BANNED IN: Europe and Japan

Drink a lot of sports drinks? Then you also drink a lot of brominated vegetable oil (BVO).This additive is found in drinks such as Mountain Dew, Fanta, and Gatorade and it helps to lock in the citrus flavoring. A key component in BVO is bromine, which is used as a flame retardant.

BVO can build up in the body, and consuming excessive amounts of it has been known to lead to skin and nerve problems and memory loss.

Olestra (Olean)

BANNED IN: The UK and Canada

OK, so it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to come across olestra these days since it was such a massive failure and has so many side effects (hello runs) but the FDA has not officially banned it — so it is still out there on the market.

Olestra is a fat substitute found in fat-free potato chips and french fries. Unfortunately it also has the ability to cancel out the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and comes with some nasty side-effects. Back in 2010 TIME magazine named it as one of the 50 worst inventions.


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After a long-standing dispute about whether it was safe to put arsenic drugs in animal feed, the FDA finally banned three out of the four drugs used last year.

Arsenic is fed primarily to chickens to help fight diseases and to make the meat look pinker. It also helps to promote weight gain. Everyone knows arsenic is a poison, so it’s surprising it was permitted in the first place.

One of the four drugs, nitarsone, is still on the market and will continue to be fed to turkeys. Yup.

Potassium Bromate

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BANNED IN: The EU, Canada, and China

Potassium bromate is added to bread to make the dough stronger and more elastic. According to American manufacturers, it disappears during baking. Obviously the Europeans, Canadians, and Chinese don’t agree, because they’ve banned bromated flour. Its effect on humans isn’t really known, but it has been linked to cancer in rats.

A Whole Host of Food Colorings

BANNED IN: Depends on the color, but most commonly Norway and Finland

There are a lot of these to look out for. Warning flags have been raised about Red #40, found in candy, maraschino cherries, and many other products, and Yellow #5 and #6, found in boxed Mac& Cheese and cheesy crackers. Some believe there could be a link between these dyes and hyperactivity disorders in children.

These colorings and Blue #2 have been linked to other health problems including cancer and birth defects in animals.