5 illegal foods from across the globe.
While we are generally allowed freedom of choice when it comes to what we eat or drink, there are some foodstuffs that have been deemed so controversial they have been banned from sale due to concerns about negative effects on the health, safety and wellbeing of consumers.
Absinthe is often considered the drink of genius’ due to its reputation for inducing creativity. However, the potent spirit – nicknamed the green fairy – is actually said to have harmful neurological effects due to its inclusion of controversial ingredient thujone. Due to its perceived link to violence and mental illness, absinthe has over the years been banned in many places around the world, including Switzerland (1910), USA (1912) and France (1915).
However, although in many cases its formula is somewhat different from the traditional one (with low levels of thujone), absinthe is one product that has actually managed to reinstate itself as a perfectly legal tipple in most countries, although the ban still stands in Vanuatu and certain regions of New Zealand. Furthermore, the USA have imposed regulations that, while absinthe may be bought, it must be free from thujone and the term “absinthe” must not stand alone on the label.
Japanese Puffer Fish
The puffer fish – or fugu – is considered something of a delicacy in Japan and Korea and is available on the menus of many Japanese restaurants, as well as several licensed restaurants in the US. However, selling or consuming this notorious dish is completely banned in the European Union, due to the fact that most puffer fish contain lethal amounts of a poison called tetrodotoxin, which can paralyse the body and cause death by asphyxiation.
Although poisoning from fugu prepared by trained chefs is quite rare, many view eating the fish as a “Russian roulette” experience, as eating the wrong part of a puffer fish will more than likely kill you. While the EU is currently alone in completely banning the food, several cases of puffer fish poisoning led Vietnam to ban the catching and selling of the fish between 2002 and 2010, and prompted the state of Florida to also consider imposing a puffer fish ban in 2006.
Traditional Scottish dish haggis has been a source of contention between the Scottish Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for 22 years, when the offal-based dish was banned in the USA. Following Britain’s BSE outbreak in 1989, authorities made the controversial decision to ban imports of haggis, although both SEERAD and the British Food Standards Agency have subsequently asserted the consumption of haggis is perfectly healthy.
While rumours circulated back in January 2010 that the US was due to lift its ban on haggis, unluckily for American haggis fans, the ban – which has been under review for over a year – is still in place today. Although US residents are able to get their hands on American haggis, this is generally considered to be very different from the real thing, often being made from beef and always lacking one essential authentic ingredient: sheep’s lungs – an ingredient that has been illegal in the US since 1971.
Raw milk is another banned food at the centre of much debate. Prior to the industrial revolution, raw milk was commonly drunk by most people, however, when pasteurisation became more common, the consumption of raw milk was banned. Although improved standards of farm sanitation mean that raw milk is a lot healthier today than it was when originally banned, many places still maintain the decision to ban the product from being sold.
In fact, selling raw milk is currently banned in 22 American states, as well as Canada, Australia and Scotland, with partial bans in many other countries. This is a particularly controversial one as, while the bans imposed on raw milk are qualified by health and safety reasons, to protect consumers from harmful bacteria, in some countries raw milk is actually sold as a health food, with many believing raw milk is a far healthier option and that pasteurisation destroys the milk’s nutrients and good bacteria.
Stevia – also commonly known as sweet leaf or sugarleaf – is a plant-based sweetener that has been banned in the USA, the EU, Singapore and Hong Kong. In the early 90s, the FDA made the decision to ban stevia in the US based on the belief that it was an “unsafe food additive”. However, this ban was later removed to allow stevia to be used under the provision it was labelled as a dietary supplement rather than a food additive, a stipulation that has also been subsequently removed.
The EU were firmer with their ban of the controversial sweetener, and it remained illegal to import or sell stevia as a sweetener in the UK and other EU countries from 1999 due to health concerns over the use of stevia – which has been linked to fertility problems and cancer. However, there has so far been insufficient research to back up these claims, and the EU ban was removed at the end of 2011. It is also widely available in many other countries – particularly Japan – where it is thought to have positive health effects, such as weight loss and lowered blood sugar levels.