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California Legislature Passes Landmark Bill Banning Harmful Food Additives

Safe and Sweet: Protecting Children's Health from Harmful Food Additives

The California Legislature has taken a significant step in the realm of food safety by passing Assembly Bill 418, a groundbreaking piece of legislation aimed at banning four harmful food additives. This bill, if signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, will have far-reaching implications for the food industry, public health, and consumer confidence.

Starting in 2027, Assembly Bill 418 will prohibit the sale of food and beverages in California containing red dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propylparaben. What makes this legislation unique is that it would mark the first time a state has taken such action to ban food additives that are currently permitted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These four chemicals have already been banned in the European Union and numerous other countries due to their potential health risks. However, they continue to appear in various products sold in the United States, including orange soda, icing, hamburger rolls, candies, and processed foods.

The bill’s introduction was a joint effort by Assembly members Jesse Gabriel and Buffy Wicks, both Democrats, who consider it a victory for public health. Notably, these additives are often found in foods marketed to children and in packaged items targeting low-income communities and communities of color.

The additives in question serve diverse purposes, ranging from enhancing the appearance of food to extending its shelf life. For instance, red dye No. 3, derived from petroleum, has been associated with cancer in lab animals, yet it is still used to color foods and medicines. Studies have also linked artificial food dyes to behavioral issues in children, although the FDA contends that no causal relationship exists in the general population.

Potassium bromate, used to improve the texture of baked goods and bread rising, has similarly been linked to cancer in lab animals. Brominated vegetable oil, an emulsifier in citrus drinks, has raised concerns about behavioral and reproductive issues. Propylparaben, a preservative, is believed to mimic estrogen and potentially disrupt the endocrine system.

Environmental advocacy groups, like the Environmental Working Group, have supported AB 418 as a historic win for consumers. The bill, also known as the California Food Safety Act, has received bipartisan support, sending a message to both the FDA and the food industry.

AB 418’s impact is expected to extend beyond California, as large manufacturers may reformulate their products nationwide to comply with the ban. The transition to alternative ingredients is expected to be straightforward and cost-effective.

While the International Food Additives Council and the FDA have not yet commented on the bill, the International Association of Color Manufacturers maintains that red dye No. 3 is safe for use in food. However, the passage of AB 418 underscores growing concerns about the safety of such additives and calls for more extensive regulatory scrutiny.

In summary, Assembly Bill 418 represents a historic moment in the pursuit of safer and healthier food options. If signed into law, it will usher in significant changes in the food industry, ensuring that consumers can have greater confidence in the products they purchase.