Confirmed: California bans four ‘toxic’ food additives10 Oct 2023
Four food additives, including the colouring Red No. 3, will be banned in food in the US state of California over safety concerns, with public health campaigners hoping this will spark a nationwide ban in the coming years.
The carcinogenic food dye Red No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, and propylparaben will no longer be allowed in foods sold in the state of California, following California Governor Newsom’s signing of the bill AB 418.
The California legislation makes California the first state in the US to prohibit the use of these additives in packaged foods despite the fact that they are currently deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food manufacturers have until 2027 to comply.
Potassium bromate is an oxidising agent used as a flour improver in processed baked goods, such as bread while propyl paraben is a preservative. Brominated vegetable oil is used as an emulsifier in citrus-flavoured drinks to prevent the flavours from separating while Red Dye No. 3 is a red food colouring.
All the additives have been linked to serious health problems, such as a higher risk of cancer, nervous system damage, and hyperactivity, and have all been banned for use in food in the EU with the exception of Red No. 3, which can be used in candied cherries.
An original draft of the bill, approved by the California Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials in April this year, also proposed to ban titanium dioxide, used to impart an opaque white colour to food, drink, and supplement but this was not included in the final version.
Hopes that nationwide legislation will follow
Non-profit civil society organisation, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it hoped the California legislation would inspire similar efforts around the country and prompt the FDA to eliminate the four additives.
California has a history of setting precedence when it comes to food safety and public health regulations in the US. In 2008, It banned artificial trans fats – present in partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) – from food sold in restaurants and foodservice but it was not until 2015 that the FDA ruled PHOs were not safe for use in food.
Similar legislation is pending in New York State via a bill that proposes banning the same additives included in the California law.
Speaking of Red Dye No 3, CSPI president Dr Peter G. Lurie said: “Most people would be quite surprised to learn that a known carcinogen is banned for use in lipstick but still widely used in thousands of foods, including many candies, baked goods, and drinks marketed to children.
“California has corrected that absurdity for Californians, and, if past is prologue, the impact of this law will reverberate throughout the nation and at the FDA.”
National Confectioners Association: ‘Soundbites over science’
The National Confectioners Association (NCA) said in a statement that California was once again making decisions “based on soundbites rather than science”.
“[The] approval of this bill will undermine consumer confidence and create confusion around food safety. This law replaces a uniform national food safety system with a patchwork of inconsistent state requirements created by legislative fiat that will increase food costs. This is a slippery slope that the FDA could prevent by engaging on this important topic. We should be relying on the scientific rigour of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives.”
The Californian bill was proposed by Jesse Gabriel, chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, who previously sought to alleviate fears voiced by food industry opponents of the bill that it would result in the prohibition of certain candy and other confectionery products.
“There is no realistic chance that this bill will result in Skittles or any other product being pulled off the shelf,” he said. “The idea here is for these companies to make minor modifications to their recipes so that these products no longer include dangerous and toxic chemicals.”
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