California Becomes First State to Ban Four Toxic Additives in Food and Drinks


Image via Flickr by [Mike Mozart]
By Laurel Spear


California made history as the first state in the United States to ban the use of four food and drink additives linked to diseases such as cancer. AB 418 or The California Food Safety Act outlaws distribution and manufacturing of any food or beverages that contain potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, propylparaben, and red dye 3. 


These additives can be found in many different foods and drinks in the US: candy such as Peeps and Hot Tamales, citrus drinks, and baked goods.


Although companies would no longer be able to produce or sell goods containing these additives, the goal of the bill is not to ban the products themselves; instead California wants companies to change their recipes so that the additives are no longer included. 


“Californians will still be able to access and enjoy their favorite food products, with greater confidence in the safety of such products” Governor Gavin Newsom wrote in his legislative update after signing the bill into law. 


These additives have already been banned or restricted in the 27 countries of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, China, and Japan. In these countries, companies have altered their recipes to include healthier alternatives for these additives. 


In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration or FDA banned the use of red dye 3 in cosmetics after scientific studies showed that it was linked to cancer in lab animals. According to consumer advocates, the FDA has not reviewed these additives in at least 30 years, if ever. 


“The Governor’s signature today represents a huge step forward in our effort to protect children and families in California from dangerous and toxic chemicals in our food supply. It’s unacceptable that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to food safety,” California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, author of AB 418 said in a press release after it was signed into law.


Because of the size of California’s economy, this law could affect food across the US. Manufacturers may be compelled to produce one version of their product for the US market instead of a separate one for just California. 


In New York, a similar ban that would ban these four additives and titanium dioxide is currently in the Legislature. 


The ban will not go into effect until January 1, 2027, and includes fines of up to $10,000 for companies that do not comply. California ensured that the ban would not go into effect immediately in order to allow “ significant time for brands to revise their recipes to avoid these harmful chemicals” according to Newsom


Opponents of the ban include the National Confectioners Association or NCA who said this bill will create confusion and undermine consumer confidence regarding food safety. NCA is the leading organization in the US confectionery industry, generating $42 billion in retail every year. 


“This law replaces a uniform national food safety system with a patchwork of inconsistent state requirements created by legislative fiat that will increase food costs … We should be relying on the scientific rigor of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives” the NCA said in a statement


Major food manufacturers including Coke, Pepsi, Panera, and Dunkin’ have already begun voluntarily substituting these additives for other ingredients because of concerns about health effects. 


Studies have linked brominated vegetable oil and potassium bromate to respiratory and nervous system issues and propylparaben has been linked to impacts on reproductive health. 


“This is a milestone in food safety, and California is once again leading the nation. We applaud Governor Newsom for signing this landmark bill and putting the health of Californians before the interests of industry,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group who sponsored the bill, said

Laurel Spear is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Science. She writes for the Vanguard’s Social Justice Desk and is also the Social Media Coordinator for the Vanguard at Berkeley.

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