It’s no secret that the U.S. likes its sweets. We have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. And many of our sugar-coated treats contain chemicals that aren’t exactly nutritious. Some ingredients and dyes have even been linked to cancer. And now the largest state in the union is taking steps to ban them for good.
Assembly Bill 418 would ban the manufacture, sale and distribution of foods containing five harmful substances starting in 2025, including:
- Red dye No. 3
- Titanium dioxide
- Potassium bromate
- Brominated vegetable oil
These ingredients can be found in Crush Orange Soda, Mountain Dew, some Betty Crocker icings and sprinkles, and a range of Hostess snacks. Other companies that sell their products in the Sunshine State, including the makers of Skittles and Peeps, would have to amend their recipes to continue their operations.
The bill was sponsored by assembly members Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). It just passed the California State Assembly, its first hurdle on its way to becoming law.
“This legislation will protect kids, families and consumers in California from some really toxic chemicals with well-documented risks of harm,” Gabriel said during an interview Tuesday.
Companies caught using these chemicals in their food products would be fined $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for every subsequent violation.
The legislation is modeled after similar laws in Europe that ban the same five substances, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system issues, as well as behavioral disorders in children, according to a list maintained by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, a supporter of the legislation.
The organization notes that many of the products that contain these hazards are marketed towards children. The authors of the bill say food manufacturing companies were able to bypass the regulatory review process using the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe standards, which says that a substance does not need additional review if it has been “adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use.”
“There are major weaknesses in the FDA approval process,” Gabriel added.
“Everyone assumes that the food we bring to our families is safe, and everyone assumes that the FDA is reviewing all of the chemicals that are added to our food for safety,” Faber explained. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”
In response to the bill, the FDA defended its actions in an email.
“All the substances in California Bill 418 have been evaluated by the FDA,” the agency’s statement reads. “When we identify new data and information that indicates the use of an ingredient is unsafe, we take steps to protect public health — which can include revoking authorizations or approvals for certain uses, working with industry on voluntary market phase-out agreements and recalls, issuing alerts and informing consumers.”
Multiple organizations within the food processing and manufacturing industries have come out against Assembly Bill 418, including the Consumer Brands Association, the International Assn. of Color Manufacturers, the National Confectioners Association, and the American Bakers Association.
“The California Assembly is well-intentioned, but this is not the right way to do it,” Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the National Confectioners Association, told the Los Angeles Times in an email. “We should be relying on the science-based rigor of the federal regulatory process and avoiding a state-by-state patchwork approach related to food additives and ingredients.”
But Gabriel argues that the bill isn’t meant to ban products, but to convince companies to change their recipes.
“I would vote against a bill that would ban Skittles or any candy. That’s a personal decision,” Gabriel said. “What we want these companies to do is make minor modifications to their recipes with safer, readily available alternatives.”
Several high-profile companies, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Panera Bread, and Dunkin’, have already stopped using these chemicals in their food products.
“They’re not going to have one recipe for California and a different recipe for Oklahoma,” Gabriel said. “Companies are going to make changes to their recipes and kids across the U.S. are going to be safer. We don’t love our kids here any less than they do in Europe. It’s time that our laws reflect that.”