Various foods and beverages are banned in countries around the world for numerous reasons, but food regulatory policy is far from objective. Some countries have a preventative approach to food safety and implement regulatory laws based on the potential dangers of certain additives, production processes, or ingredients — whereas other governments might ban foods based on environmental, economic, ethical, or cultural concerns.
But what makes food regulation such an interesting topic is that it represents not only the intersection of culture, science, and politics, but also the mindset of a particular era. What was deemed safe one year may be found to be dangerous the next, just as an animal production system once considered ethical might later be perceived as immoral.
Food regulatory laws are not set in stone, nor have they been passed down from the heavens. Just like any other legislation, they can be subjective, biased, and flat-out irrational.
Here are 5 foods it may surprise you to learn are banned around the world.
A high-proofed, licorice-flavored spirit, absinthe has long been the subject of folklore (and horrifying drinking stories) for its hallucinogenic properties, and it was banned in many countries for much of the twentieth century. In 2007, the United States removed its long-standing ban on the sale and production of absinthe, but has since required that the beverage be flavored not with its original defining ingredient, wormwood, or Artemisia absinthium (which contains the psychedelic ingredient thujone), but with a related species, Artemisia abrotanum.
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Possibly the most upper-class-sounding food on the planet, beluga caviar comes from the eggs of the beluga sturgeon, a critically endangered fish that exists only in the Caspian, Black, and Adriatic seas. It is banned through much of the world by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) because most the countries that border the sturgeon's native seas fail to prevent their poaching. Perhaps counterintuitively, Iran, which borders the Caspian, is exempt from the ban, as it follows sustainable conservation practices.
Singapore takes its 2004 ban on chewing gum very seriously. Apparently, vandals had been wreaking havoc on Singapore’s infrastructure with chewing gum by clogging key holes, jamming elevator buttons, and deactivating subway door sensors. The ban has since been revised to permit the sale of fortified chewing gum by a doctor or dentist.
To make foie gras, duck or geese are force-fed corn through a feeding tube (the process is known as gavage). Over-feeding the poultry causes their livers to grow up to 10 times the normal size, and although foie gras is considered a delicacy is most regions of the world, its questionable production methods have angered animal right’s activists. India has banned the importation of foie gras, while its production is illegal in more than 20 countries including Germany, Israel, and Switzerland. Foie gras was also banned for a time in both Chicago and California, but both bans were later rescinded.
Haggis is the second-most famous Scottish product (behind whisky, of course). It’s made of sheep heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with oatmeal, suet, and spices and stuffed — at least traditionally — into a sheep's stomach. It sounds awful but is actually delicious, especially with a dram of Scotch on the side. It’s banned in the U.S. because of a rather arbitrary ban on the lungs of the sheep (though not the heart or liver). The U.K. government is trying to get its American counterpart to overturn the ban; meanwhile, lungless versions are sold here, in cans or wrapped in plastic.