California Says No to Toxic Food and Beverage Additives

CA Governor Gavin Newsom signs law to ban four harmful chemicals in foods and beverages.

4 Min Read
CA passes bill to cut out 4 toxins to food and bev
California is the first state in the US to pass a bill to ban toxic food additives.Image courtesy of MillefloreImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the California Food Safety Act, the first law in the US to ban four harmful chemicals from candy, cereal, soda, and other processed food sold and produced in the state.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) authored the law, which ends the food uses of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben and Red Dye No. 3. These chemicals are linked to serious health problems, such as hyperactivity, nervous system damage, and an increased risk of cancer. 

All four additives have already been banned by European regulators, with the exception of Red Dye No. 3 in candied cherries. 

“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,” said Gabriel, chair of the state Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection. 

“It’s unacceptable that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to food safety. This bill will not ban any foods or products – it simply will require food companies to make minor modifications to their recipes and switch to the safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other places around the globe,” he said.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Consumer Reports co-sponsored the bill.

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

This groundbreaking law may affect food across the country, not just in California, so all Americans will likely benefit from the ban. Given the size of the state’s economy, it is unlikely manufacturers will produce two versions of their product — one to be sold solely in California and one for the rest of the country. As many as 12,000 products may be affected, based on EWG’s Food Scores database.

“These toxic chemicals have no place in our food,” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “Manufacturers in Europe are producing the same food products without these harmful chemicals, so there’s no reason we can’t do the same.

Other states have started to follow. A similar bill, which would ban the same four chemicals plus titanium dioxide, is making its way through committee in the New York legislature. 

Most chemicals added to food and food packaging to enhance flavor or appearance, or to preserve freshness, are likely safe to eat.

But the four food chemicals covered by the California Food Safety Act have been linked to a number of serious health concerns. They were banned by the European Union after it launched a full review of the safety of all food additives in 2008.

Also, children have lower tolerance levels than adults to chemical exposure, and their developing bodies make them especially vulnerable to harmful chemicals in their food.

“We also know that children are likely exposed to higher levels of the food chemicals banned by the California Food Safety Act because of the types of foods they are found in — foods like candy, cereal and frozen pizza,” he said.

More than 10,000 chemicals are allowed for use in food sold in the U.S. According to EGW, nearly 99% of those introduced since 2000 were approved by the food and chemical industry, not the Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring our food supply is safe.

The chemicals banned by the California Food Safety Act haven’t been reviewed by the FDA for 30 to 50 years, if ever.

“We’ve known for years that the toxic chemicals banned under California’s landmark new law pose serious risks to our health,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. 

“By keeping these dangerous chemicals out of food sold in the state, this groundbreaking law will protect Californians and encourage manufacturers to make food safer for everyone,” said Ronholm.

Consumers consistently rank food chemical concerns ahead of other food safety issues. But additives are not adequately regulated by the FDA, due in large part to the lack of financial support from Congress for agency food chemical reviews. 

The FDA has the opportunity to take a step in the right direction. 

EWG has signed on to two petitions being considered by the FDA that would revoke approval of the use of titanium dioxide and Red Dye No. 3 in food. 

“These petitions offer the FDA a chance to step up to the plate and do its job to protect Americans from toxic food chemicals,” said Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs. 

The National Confectioners Association has another view. A statement from the association reads:

“California is once again making decisions based on soundbites rather than science. Governor Newsom’s approval of this bill will undermine consumer confidence and create confusion around food safety. 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. This is a slippery slope that the FDA could prevent by engaging on this important topic. We should be relying on the scientific rigor of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives.”


About the Author(s)

Powder Bulk Solids Staff

Established in 1983, Powder & Bulk Solids (PBS) serves industries that process, handle, and package dry particulate matter, including the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical markets.

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