California Targets Food Chemicals: Landmark Bill Bans Five Toxins

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California may become the first state to ban five harmful chemicals commonly found in candy, cereals, and other processed foods. The California Assembly’s Committee on Health has approved a bill, A.B. 418, introduced by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, which aims to prohibit the use of five toxic ingredients in food products:

  • brominated vegetable oil
  • potassium bromate
  • Propylparaben
  • Red Dye No. 3
  • titanium dioxide.

These chemicals have been linked to health problems such as cancer, nervous system damage, and hyperactivity.

European regulators have already acted against these substances, banning all except Red No. 3 in candied cherries. A.B. 418 will be considered by the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on April 18.

“There is no realistic chance that this bill will result in Skittles or any other product being pulled off the shelf,” said Gabriel, chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection. “The idea here is for these companies to make minor modifications to their recipes so that these products no longer include dangerous and toxic chemicals.”

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel

The majority of chemicals used in food and food packaging serve to enhance flavor and appearance, or preserve freshness and are generally considered safe for consumption. However, the five food chemicals targeted by A.B. 418 are associated with various serious health issues. The European Union banned these substances following a thorough re-evaluation of the safety of all food additives in 2008.

The approval of A.B. 418 comes as a response to the fact that almost 99% of food chemicals approved since 2000 were approved by the food and chemical industry, not the FDA.

The FDA has no legal mandate to conduct periodic safety reviews of food chemicals after their initial approval for inclusion in processed foods. A considerable amount of time has passed since several of the chemicals in the bill have been rigorously examined for safety, despite emerging studies pointing to potential health risks.

If enacted, California would be the first state to impose such a prohibition, potentially paving the way for other states to prioritize public health over the interests of the food and chemical industry.

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