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California bill seeks to eliminate five toxic chemicals from food products

Source: The Hill

“We don’t love our kids any less here in the state of California than they do in Europe. And we need to take the same steps to protect our kids.”

California lawmakers are pushing forward a first-of-its-kind bill that seeks to rid food products of five chemicals linked to cancer and developmental issues in children.

The legislation, AB 418, seeks to prohibit the manufacture, sale, delivery and distribution of food products that contain brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben, red dye 3 or titanium dioxide.

Introduced by Democratic State Assemblymembers Jesse Gabriel and Buffy Wicks at the beginning of February, the bill has since been referred to the committees on health and environmental safety and toxic materials.

“The goal of this bill is to protect kids and families and consumers across the state of California by banning the use of five toxic chemicals that have well-documented risks of harm,” Gabriel said at a recent webinar about the bill. 

“These are chemicals that are banned in the European Union,” Gabriel continued, noting that the compounds have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and development and behavioral issues in kids.

Gabriel attributed the ongoing use of these chemicals in the U.S. to “some major weaknesses” in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process.

One “giant loophole,” he explained, has meant that “the overwhelming majority of chemicals in our food here in the United States get no meaningful independent review by the FDA.”

While the FDA has yet to prohibit these compounds, many major grocery chains and restaurants have already taken initiative to do so, Gabriel noted.

He particularly credited Coca Cola, Pepsi, Gatorade, Papa John’s, Panera, Dunkin Donuts, Whole Foods and Kroger for implementing such changes.

“We’re not looking to ban any foods or any products. We just want folks to switch to safer alternatives,” Gabriel said.

For each of the chemicals that the legislation seeks to ban, there exists “a readily available and safer alternative — and in many cases, a cheaper alternative,” according to Gabriel.

Many foods and candies that still contain the chemicals “are specifically marketed and targeted toward kids, in many cases disproportionately targeted towards kids in Black and brown communities,” the assemblymember warned.

Echoing Gabriel’s sentiments, Wicks stressed that she has “come to this issue really as a mom” who doesn’t want to worry about whether her kids “are eating toxic chemicals.”

“The additives that have been mentioned are not a rarity that can be easily avoided,” Wicks said. “They are heavily present across the aisles of our grocery stores, including countless snacks that are actually marketed to children.”

Stressing that the FDA banned red dye no. 3 from use in cosmetics in 1990, Wicks questioned why it is still acceptable to be putting this compound into children’s bodies.

“If the FDA is not going to keep our communities safe, then it’s up to us here in the states to take decisive and swift action on this,” Wicks said.

The Hill has reached out to the FDA multiple times for comment.

As far as the companies that produce the chemicals are concerned, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) trade group shared a recent letter opposing the bill, while also referring The Hill to the Consumer Brands Association (CBA).

The letter, sent last week to the chair of the California State Assembly Committee on Health, makes an argument against AB 418, on behalf of 11 organizations “that represent manufacturers, distributors and retailers of food and beverages,” including the ACC and CBA.

Asserting that “food safety is a paramount concern to us and our members,” the letter said that AB 418 “usurps the comprehensive food safety and approval system.”

“All five of these additives have been thoroughly reviewed by the federal and state systems and many international scientific bodies and continue to be deemed safe,” the letter stated.

The writers acknowledged that in November 2022, a group of advocates petitioned for the removal of red dye no. 3 under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act — but that the petition is open for public comment until April.

“The federal government and the state of California have developed one of the world’s most robust and protective systems for food safety,” the letter concluded. “We encourage the Legislature to allow that system to do this critical work.”

The Hill has also reached out to the CBA for comment.

Gabriel and Wicks, however, maintained a sense of urgency in ridding neighborhood grocery stores of products that contain these chemicals — and following in the footsteps of other places that have taken such steps.

“We don’t love our kids any less here in the state of California than they do in Europe,” Gabriel said. “And we need to take the same steps to protect our kids.”