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California’s Ban on Four Food Additives, previously approved by the FDA

California is taking a bold step by banning four common food additives – Red Dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propylparaben – through the California Food Safety Act. Set to take effect on January 1, 2027, this law offers a grace period for brands to reformulate their products and eliminate these harmful chemicals. Governor Gavin Newsom emphasized the importance of this move to protect public health and stated that individuals or entities manufacturing, selling, or distributing food products containing these additives in California can face fines of up to $5,000 for the first violation and up to $10,000 for subsequent offenses.

What Are These Additives and Where Are They Found?

These four banned additives are commonly found in ultra-processed foods. Red Dye No. 3 is employed as a coloring agent in red or pink icings, drinks, and candies, particularly those flavored with cinnamon, peppermint, cherry, or berry. This includes popular holiday-themed treats like conversation hearts, candy corn, and candy canes, as well as some brands of jelly beans. Brominated vegetable oil serves as a stabilizer for flavor oils, primarily in citrus-flavored store-brand sodas. Potassium bromate acts as a leavening agent, while propylparaben functions as a preservative, both commonly used in packaged baked goods such as tortillas, bread, and pastries.

Extensive research, primarily conducted on animals over the past few decades, has linked these chemicals to various health concerns, including cancer, reproductive issues, and neurobehavioral problems such as hyperactivity. Some of these issues may arise from the potential impact of these chemicals on the endocrine system, which regulates hormone function in the body.

Children are a particular focus of the California law, as they are more likely to consume products containing these additives and are more vulnerable to potential negative consequences due to their developing organs. Notably, the European Union and several other countries have already prohibited the use of these chemicals in food items due to similar concerns.

Will Other States Follow Suit?

New York state legislators have proposed a similar statewide ban, which is currently under consideration by the Senate Agriculture Committee. In California, Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel clarified that the intent of the bill is not to remove products containing these additives from supermarket shelves but to encourage food companies to transition to safer alternatives already in use in Europe and elsewhere. If manufacturers reformulate their products for California, this shift could potentially lead to the removal of these chemicals from food products nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) periodically reevaluates authorized food additives and may take action if new data suggests an ingredient is unsafe.

While it remains unclear if these chemicals are harmful in small amounts, the FDA has established limits on the quantity of a given food additive that can be used in a product. The cumulative exposure from multiple sources, given the prevalence of these additives in various food products, is a cause for concern. Many brands have already started phasing out these additives, making it possible to find products with less harmful ingredients.

Are There Other Additives to Watch Out For?

Initially, the California bill proposed banning a fifth ingredient, titanium dioxide, commonly used as a whitening agent in candies, creamy salad dressings, frozen pizzas, and ice cream. The European Union banned titanium dioxide as a food additive in 2022 due to concerns about its potential DNA-damaging effects. While it was removed from the California bill through a State Senate amendment in September, it is still included in the proposed New York bill, highlighting ongoing concerns about its safety as well.

California’s ban on these four food additives underscores the growing awareness of the potential health risks associated with certain chemicals in our food supply. While this move primarily affects California, it could set a precedent for other states and encourage manufacturers to prioritize safer alternatives in their products, ultimately benefiting consumers’ health nationwide.