Two California legislators are moving forward with an effort to ban five chemicals that are present in many foods in the United States, contending the chemicals are unsafe and are not permitted in the European Union and other countries.
With their proposed Assembly Bill 418, Assemblymembers Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) are leading the charge for California to prohibit the manufacture or distribution of foods containing the additives red dye No. 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propyl paraben.
The chemicals have been the subject of controversy over the years but are in foods that are widely distributed in this country, especially in candies, drinks and baked goods that are marketed to children, according to Consumer Reports.
“We don't love our kids any less here in the state of California than they do in Europe,” said Gabriel during a press conference Tuesday. “And we need to take the same steps to protect our kids.”
Gabriel added that the current system the U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses has a loophole that permits companies to add ingredients to food that haven’t been properly vetted. FDA rules allow companies to categorize their own ingredients as “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS and effectively bypass federal safety checks.
The lawmakers said they’d selected the top five worst chemicals still in distribution — ones that have been linked to cancer, behavioral health problems and harm to the reproductive system.
In 1990, the additive red dye No. 3 was banned from cosmetics because it caused thyroid cancer in rats at high doses. A variant of the chemical was also banned in foods. But according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Environmental Working Group, red dye No. 3 is still currently found in over 2,900 foods — in seasonal candies, ice creams and baked goods.
Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist for Consumer Reports, says that while the FDA had said it would put further regulations on red dye No. 3 when it banned it from cosmetics, it never did. He attributes the lack of movement to increasing deregulation and a lack of pressure from within and outside the federal agency.
In October 2022, Consumer Reports, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and 22 other groups and individuals sent a letter to the FDA petitioning to “remove Red No. 3 from the permanent list of color additives approved for use in food and dietary supplements … and for use in ingested drugs … because the FDA has found that the additive induces cancer and is unsafe.”
In the past, industry groups have argued that there’s insufficient scientific evidence linking synthetic colors to negative health or behavior effects.
The FDA says it does not comment on proposed or pending legislation, but that it “will continue to engage in the scientific and regulatory review of color additives and act when necessary to ensure that the products marketed to consumers are safe and properly labeled.”
If the proposed legislation is signed into law, companies will be forced to use alternatives deemed safer in the production of their goods for distribution in California.
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