The Easter candy Peeps

The Easter candy Peeps, made by Just Born Quality Confections, are displayed for sale on a store shelf on April 6, 2023 in Miami, Florida. The company has faced criticism from consumer advocates regarding its up of red dye 3, which California lawmakers aim to ban.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

California Assembly Passes First-in-Nation Bill Banning 5 Food Chemicals Prohibited in EU

"In the absence of federal leadership, it's up to states like California to keep us safe from dangerous chemicals in candy, cookies, and other foods our families enjoy."

Food safety advocates applauded Monday as California took a major step towards becoming the first U.S. state to ban five chemicals—already prohibited in the European Union—that have been linked to cancer and childhood developmental issues.

The state Assembly passed A.B. 418 three months after it was introduced by Democratic Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Jesse Gabriel, who said the passage of the bill "is a major step forward in our effort to protect children and families in California from dangerous and toxic chemicals in our food supply."

"We don't love our children any less than they do in Europe, and it's not too much to ask food and beverage manufacturers to switch to the safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other nations around the globe," said Gabriel, who chairs the state Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.

The legislation would ban the manufacture, sale, delivery, and distribution of food products that contain:

  • Brominated vegetable oil, which is used in some sodas and other beverages and has been linked to neurological symptoms;
  • Potassium bromate, which is used in some flour and found in many packaged bread goods, and has been found to cause cancer in lab animals' thyroids, kidneys, and other organs;
  • Propylparaben, an antifungal agent used in cosmetics as well as foods which has been found to have developmental and reproductive toxicity;
  • Red dye 3, a food coloring that's been linked to cancers in lab animals; and
  • Titanium dioxide, which is used in some food products to make them appear bright white and has been linked to DNA damage and cancer.
"We know they are harmful and that children are likely being exposed at a much higher rate than adults," said Susan Little, senior advocate for California governmental affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "It makes no sense that the same products food manufacturers sell in California are sold in the E.U. but without these toxic chemicals. Our kids need to be protected, too. These harmful additives have no place in California's food supply."
The E.U. banned the chemicals following a comprehensive review of all food additives in 2008.

In the U.S., according to EWG, nearly 99% of chemicals introduced to the market 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."

Since then, companies have exploited a loophole allowing them to classify the chemicals and the foods that contain them as "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS.

"A food additive petition triggers rigorous pre-market safety review of a chemical, which can only be used after FDA approval. The 1958 Food Additives Amendment intended this review to be the primary way new food chemicals are approved," said EWG in an analysis published last year. "This GRAS loophole was created in the 1958 law and intended to apply narrowly, to common ingredients like sugar, vinegar and baking soda. But as EWG's analysis shows, the loophole—not FDA safety review—has become the main way new chemicals are allowed into food."

New York lawmakers have also proposed a ban on the five chemicals that would close the loophole.

"For decades, the FDA has failed to keep us safe from toxic food chemicals," said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG. "In the absence of federal leadership, it's up to states like California to keep us safe from dangerous chemicals in candy, cookies, and other foods our families enjoy."

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