Return to Blog April 22, 2024

Food Regulations in Europe vs. the US


US and European food standards are more aligned than most consumers believe. Each respective regulatory body prioritizes human health, safe and responsible ingredient sourcing, and provides valuable guidance to empower smart manufacturing standards.

In other words, these two markets have much more in common than in contrast – and that’s excellent news for suppliers, manufacturers, and consumers.

Consistently High Food Regulation in the US and EU

The Global Food Security Index (GFSI) conducted an in-depth study of more than 100 countries to evaluate each nation’s food safety standards. The results ranked seven European and two North American countries in the top 10, with Japan being the only Asian country to make the list. Despite different food safety standards across the globe, the report confirmed that these markets consistently produced high-quality products.

Food Quality in Europe vs. America: Who Makes the Rules?

The US and Europe both have exemplary food regulatory agencies that protect consumers and communicate changing standards, regulations, and best practices to suppliers and manufacturers.

US Food and Drug Administration

In the US, food regulations are established and enforced by the FDA. The agency is responsible for protecting public health across several categories.

The FDA’s expansive purview includes:

  • Cosmetics
  • Human pharmaceutical products
  • Animal pharmaceutical products
  • Medical devices
  • Tobacco products
  • Human food
  • Animal food and nutrition
  • Electronics that emit radiation

The agency is currently armed with an $8.4 billion budget, which marks an astounding 34% increase in total funding from 2022. The increase is designed to improve food safety and modernize medical device safety programs. The FDA overlaps in certain areas with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose jurisdiction includes meat, poultry and eggs.

European Food Safety Authority

EU food regulations face the formidable challenge of complex geopolitical wrangling, with competitive markets across the continent. The EFSA has the daunting task of aligning and enforcing food regulations for all 27 member nations of the European Union. That’s a key differentiator between organizations; the US relies on the FDA to approve food additives and GRAS petitions, while the EFSA isn’t strictly associated with a single government. The closest comparator in the US would be the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association, which conducts similar safety studies and assigns a FEMA number to all raw flavor materials.  

How Do US and European Food Standards Differ?

The US and Europe differ in two key areas. First, regulators treat specific food ingredient standards differently, particularly those surrounding possible allergens, preservatives, and additives. Second, there are notable differences in food labeling requirements.

Food Additive Guidelines: More Stringent in Europe

In the US, the FDA and USDA take a more hands-off approach to testing and inspections, often allowing new food ingredients unless proven harmful. Historically, this has included ingredients like GMOs, growth hormones, and chemical preservatives.

EU regulations on food additives tend to be stricter than in the US. The EFSA requires additives to be proven safe before approval and has banned the use of growth hormones and several chemical additives.

These differing philosophies lead to certain additives being allowed in the US and banned in Europe. For instance, these eight ingredients are commonly used in the US but not in Europe:

  • rBGH (rBST) – Growth hormone
  • Ractopamine – Increases lean muscle in animal stock
  • Potassium bromate – Makes baked goods whiter and increases volume
  • Brominate vegetable oil – Used to keep flavors from separating in beverages, although the FDA has proposed a ban on this ingredient
  • Olestra – Fat substitute
  • Azodicarbonamide – Used to bleach flour

European Food Labels vs. American

The European approach to food additives is visible. The EFSA assigns a 3- or 4-digit code to every food additive, and that number must be included on food labels if it’s used in a product. The EFSA believes this system makes it easier for consumers to look up and memorize specific additives.

Food regulations in the US require the names of those same additives to be printed out in full. Interestingly, food packaging with only E numbers is prohibited in US markets. This regulation is why brands can’t meet one or both standards with a single line of packaging.

Both markets require food labels to list high-risk allergens. The EU requires labeling of 14 allergens, while the US notes 9 major food allergens since the addition of sesame on January 1, 2023.

Is Food in Europe Healthier? Safer?

There isn’t enough evidence to make sweeping claims on how US and European food standards impact consumer health. This difficult comparison is made even more challenging when accounting for portion size, lifestyle habits and other variables. Food manufacturers, regulators and consumers share a vested interest in high-quality, safe and nutritious foods. It’s an evolving process and we’re committed to doing our part.

Navigate International Food Markets with Confidence

Tilley Distribution’s global capabilities push our team to operate at the forefront of a dynamic regulatory environment. Our experienced team has a wealth of industry knowledge that positions us to meet the most pressing challenges faced by our food manufacturing clients. See what we can do for you; contact a Tilley representative today to learn more.