Everything may be bigger in Texas, but when it comes to food safety, our pals overseas have got us beat. On the whole, Europe is much stricter than the United States about the additives that make their way into the food chain. From artificial dyes to growth hormones, the EU leads the rest of the world in preemptively banning possibly dangerous additions long before other countries get the memo.

Playing it safe.

European countries approach environmental and chemical concerns using a set of rationalities called the precautionary principle, which is actually more of a moral guidance for food producers than it is a hard-and-fast set of legal criteria. The precautionary principle dictates that when objective scientific evaluation indicates that there are “reasonable grounds for concern” over potentially dangerous effects on “environment, human, animal or plant health,” food production decision-makers are faced with a set of protections and expectations to ensure that consumers are not hurt by any food product or process that passes through their hands.

While this approach may sound to some like a political technicality, it actually serves as an important barometer for accountability in the risk-management chain, and permeates the food-production process.

Food shouldn’t “harm” you.

In contrast, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration often sets a very high bar for the “proof of harm” regarding the same concerns. While this focus on proof over general concern may sound like a small technicality on paper, it really is a complete reversal of responsibility in the food-production supply line. An expectation of actual harm outlines not a course of action in response to public worry, but rather sets a threshold of damage that must be demonstrated as a result of a consumer product before any regulatory action is taken. In general, this is bad news for folks who are concerned about the safety of under-researched food additives.

As a result, Europe has much stricter, zero-tolerance policies on many health and environmental concerns when it comes to food, such as the use of hormones and antibiotics, drug residues, antiseptics, GMOs, BPAs and certain inhumane farming practices, whereas the U.S. appeals process remains slow-changing and cumbersome to navigate, and also wide open for influences from outside agencies lobbying their own agendas with something other than the public’s safety in mind.

Striving to be like our neighbors.

While some consumers associate higher levels of government regulation with a less creative and free marketplace, the opposite is usually the case when the rubber meets the road and American companies end up sacrificing quality for the sake of business interests. But although it does not stem from wholesome beginnings, this gap in the market does not have to be a bad thing. Once more, buying power and vocal accountability are the true tools of the public. Always be sure to read labels, question studies and buy local. Exercising choice at the smallest level is a major way to stand up to corporate interests and keep your family safe.

Lovey Cooper