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Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio Unveil Legislation to Prohibit Harmful Chemicals in School Foods

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) unveiled first-in-the-nation legislation that would prohibit California public schools from serving foods containing additives that have been linked to health harms in children, including cancer, harm to the immune system, neurobehavioral issues, and hyperactivity. In particular, Assembly Bill (AB) 2316 would prohibit schools from serving foods containing six synthetic food dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3) as well as titanium dioxide, a coloring agent that is often used in sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, and plastics.

Titanium dioxide has been banned for use in foods in the European Union (EU) since 2022 while products containing specified foods dyes are required by the EU to carry a warning label about their potential harms to children.

“California has a responsibility to protect our students from chemicals that harm children and that can interfere with their ability to learn,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D - Encino). “As a lawmaker, a parent, and someone who struggled with ADHD, I find it unacceptable that we allow schools to serve foods with additives that are linked to cancer, hyperactivity, and neurobehavioral harms. This bill will empower schools to better protect the health and wellbeing of our kids and encourage manufacturers to stop using these dangerous additives.”

Notably, a comprehensive research report released in 2021 by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) concluded that “consumption of synthetic food dyes can result in hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral problems in some children.” The report also found that current FDA levels for safe intake of synthetic food dyes “are based on 35- to 70-year-old studies that were not designed to detect the types of behavioral effects that have been observed in children” and that “newer studies indicate that the [current FDA guidelines] may not adequately protect children.” The study also noted the dramatic increase in the percentage of American children and adolescents diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in recent years.

The introduction of AB 2316 follows last year’s successful passage of AB 418 (Gabriel) – known as the California Food Safety Actwhich banned the use of four dangerous chemicals from foods sold in California and helped to spark a national conversation about the need for the United States to modernize its antiquated food safety laws. Like the California Food Safety Act, AB 2316 would not ban any specific foods or products; rather, it would encourage companies to make modifications to products sold in California and help prompt a nationwide transition to safer alternative ingredients.

“Many children rely on school meals as a source of their daily nutrition and calorie intake,” said Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group. “Kids deserve wholesome foods that don’t negatively impact their ability to learn, and parents deserve the confidence that the schools they’re sending their kids to aren’t serving them food that may harm them.”

“Food with harmful synthetic dyes shouldn't be allowed in California schools,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports. “The food dyes banned by this bill have been linked to neurobehavioral symptoms like inattention and hyperactivity that undermine the ability of children to learn and succeed in school. Consumer Reports applauds Assemblymember Gabriel for working to protect the health and well-being of kids in California and his continued leadership to ensure the safety of our food.”

AB 2316 now heads to the Assembly Education Committee, where it is expected to be heard in the coming weeks.