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California Food Safety Act: The First Bill in the U.S. Banning Chemical Food Additives

Earlier this year, Assembly member Jesse Gabriel introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of food or drinks that contain food additives to the California Legislature. This bill makes California the first state in the nation to ban the use of potentially dangerous chemicals in processed foods.


Assembly Bill 418, also called the California Food Safety Act, prevents individuals or entities from engaging in the manufacturing, selling, distributing, or offering for sale in commerce, any food product intended for human consumption containing these specific substances: red dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propylparaben. Violations of this provision could result in a civil penalty, with a maximum of $5,000 for a first offense and up to a $10,000 fine for each subsequent violation. These penalties could be imposed through legal action initiated by the Attorney General, a city attorney, a district attorney or a country counsel.


This bill will commence on January 1, 2027 as it was signed into law by California’s governor Gavin Newson who said in a statement to members of the California State Assembly: ‘signing this into law is a positive step forward on these four food additives until the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews and establishes national updated safety levels for these additives.’ Scientific studies have showcased substantial public health risks from these additives, which have led to the prohibition of each of these chemicals in the European Union (EU).


In the U.S., thousands of chemicals are added to foods for extended shelf life, enhanced taste, and appeal. Surprisingly, many of these chemicals have either never undergone independent evaluation by the FDA or were last reviewed decades ago. Rather, they rely on a label in federal regulation known as GRAS, or ‘generally recognized as safe,’ which was meant to apply to simple home ingredients like canola oil, black pepper, or vinegar, allowing these chemicals to get into the country's food supply. Consequently, chemical companies introduce new substances into the food supply with minimal federal oversight.


Red dye No. 3, an artificial color made from petroleum, is prohibited by the FDA from being used in cosmetics due to research demonstrating that excessive doses of the dye causes cancer in laboratory animals. Nevertheless, it is still used to provide a vivid red color to foods and medications


Potassium bromate, a flour additive that enhances the texture of baked items and allows the bread to rise higher, has also been shown to have a connection to cancer in experimental animals; in 1982, it was discovered to cause tumors in laboratory rats. However, the FDA has only encouraged consumers to voluntarily quit using bromate since 1991 rather than explicitly banning it, with limited success.


Brominated vegetable oil (BVO), an emulsifier used in citrus beverages to keep flavoring from floating to the top, has been linked to health issues such as reproductive and behavioral problems in laboratory animals. A report was published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology on May 16, 2022 that the FDA assessed the possible health effects of BVO, and discovered that the thyroid is a target organ for potential adverse health effects in laboratory rats at high exposure levels. The FDA released a proposed rule on November 3, 2023, which, if approved, would revoke the law permitting the usage of BVO in food.


Propylparaben is a preservative found in food and cosmetic products that is believed to resemble estrogen and act as an endocrine disruptor, potentially leading to tumor formation, birth abnormalities, and developmental issues. The chemical is accepted as safe for use at concentrations no more than 0.1 percent based on the information available, although insufficient data has been collected to determine propylparaben's general safety.


Controversially called the ‘California Skittles ban’, as Gabriel initially sought to have titanium dioxide banned as a fifth additive, it was found in Skittles and will not face a ban. Skittles are still marketed in Europe with different additives as the EU bans several of its chemicals and artificial colorants. It does not make sense that identical food products that food producers sell in California are offered for sale in the EU without these harmful ingredients. This shows that the food business can continue to produce products while adhering to various public health regulations, which vary from nation to nation.


Up to 12,000 products can be affected by the new bill. However, just because one administrator restricts an additive does not indicate that the entire product is prohibited. Corporations are more likely to adjust their formula rather than forgo selling a product in a state, especially one as large as California. Since the new measure will not go into effect until 2027, this will allow brands ample opportunity to modify their ingredient listing in order to comply with the new legislation.


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