Photo: Daniel X. O’ Neil

Recently, the White House announced that it would begin updating government regulations around genetically modified crops. They admitted that the current 30-year-old system perhaps had not kept up with the times.

A bit of research into U.S. Food policy proved how truly behind we really are. Below are five facts that show how poorly U.S. food regulations compare to the rest of the world.

1. The U.S. uses pesticides that other parts of the world have already banned.

The most heavily used herbicide in the U.S.– Atrazine — was banned in Europe in 2003. Yet according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data by the Pesticide Action Network, 90% of U.S. drinking contains it.

The United States also uses “neonicotinoid pesticides” on around 90% of our country’s corn, even though the European Commission has placed these pesticides under two-year moratoriums after studies found them to be toxic to bees. The EU — along with China — have also banned Paraquat, a pesticide that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease and is still also commonly used in the United States.

In 2007, the United States accounted for twenty percent of the world’s 2.4 billion kilograms of pesticides. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. According to a U.S. Geological Survey report, the majority of streams in the U.S. contain pesticides or pesticide residues.

A recent Consumer Report survey of over 1,000 Americans found that 85% of them were concerned about pesticide usage. Long-term pesticide exposure has been linked in some studies to an increased risk in certain diseases like  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and several cancers.

2. Ingredients present in our foods are also often banned in several countries around the world.

A recent Buzzfeed article featured research from the book Rich Food, Poor Food, which explains foods banned across the world that the United States still featured prominently in its processed foods. For example, Bromine — banned in over one hundred countries around the world because of its link to birth defects, growth problems, and organ damage — is found in American sports drinks and sodas. The synthetic growth hormones we often give cows in the United States have also been banned in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the entire European Union. And artificial food dye — which has chemicals derived from petroleum and has been linked to brain cancer — was  banned in Norway, Finland, Austria, France, and the United Kingdom, yet is still found in American cake mixes, sports drinks, candy and even macaroni cheese.

3. Unlike Europe and various countries in Africa and the Middle East, the U.S. still does not require labeling of genetically modified food.  

In 2013, the New York Times reported that almost all of Americans supported mandatory labeling requirements for food products that contained genetically modified ingredients. Around 75% of respondents expressed general concern about the effect of genetically modified food on their health.  26% believed the ingredients in those kinds of food were not safe to eat. Three quarters said they wouldn’t eat genetically modified fish, and two-thirds said they wouldn’t eat genetically modified meat.

By that year, sixty-four countries had already enforced consumer “right to know” laws on GMO food. These included countries like China, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Peru, Ecuador, Russia, Saudia Arabia, South Africa, Senegal, Thailand and Vietnam. The European Union has only approved one GMO food to be grown within its border: one strain of Monsanto corn. And yet the U.S has not followed suit.

4. Meanwhile, we are the largest commercial grower of genetically modified crops in the entire world.

More than 88% of U.S. corn, 93% of soybeans and 94% of cotton are genetically engineered. Other estimates say that around 60-70% of U.S. processed foods have GMO ingredients.

The United States is also number one in the world for the number of accumulated hectarage of land devoted to genetically engineered crops from 1996-2009 with 64 million hectares.

5. In comparison to other developed nations around the world, our school lunches are astonishingly unhealthy and meager.

Last year, Michelle Obama’s campaign to change the nutritional standards of American school lunches inspired an online movement where students posted pictures of their lunch on social media. A Buzzfeed article captured the worst of the worst.

An article in the UK’s Daily Mail put the photos in even more perspective. The article showed photos of meals from countries like Ukraine, South Korea, Brazil, and Finland — all with fresh vegetables and generous portions of fish, steak and chicken, juxtaposed next to paltry American lunches of chicken fingers and fries.