California is poised to become the first state in the US to ban four chemicals added to processed food. The state legislature passed a bill (AB 418) Sept. 12 that prohibits brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben, and Red No. 3 dye in food products sold in California, effective Jan. 1, 2027. The legislation now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom, who can sign the bill into law or veto it.
The four ingredients are banned in the European Union and many countries because of concerns about their impact on human health, including cancer, reproductive issues, and behavioral and developmental effects in children.
“This bill will not ban any foods or products—it simply will require food companies to make minor modifications to their recipes and switch to the safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other places around the globe,” the author of the bill, Assembly member Jesse Gabriel, says in a statement.
An earlier version of the bill sought to ban titanium dioxide. Lawmakers removed the color additive from the final version to garner more support. Titanium dioxide is banned in the EU because of concerns that it can damage DNA. Last year, a California man filed a lawsuit against Mars, maker of Skittles, claiming the candy was unfit for human consumption because it contains titanium dioxide. The US Food and Drug Administration considers titanium dioxide safe as a color additive in food.
Scrutiny of harmful colors, preservatives, and other chemicals in food has taken a back seat to microbial pathogens at the FDA for decades. Pressure from advocacy groups and lawmakers is changing that.
The agency announced earlier this year that it plans to overhaul how it manages the risks of chemicals added to food. It also hired the first deputy commissioner for human foods, Jim Jones, who will oversee the Human Foods Program starting later this month. Jones was the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s chemicals office under President Barack Obama. But the FDA is hamstrung without additional funding.
“The food and confectioners industries know the review process at the FDA is broken,” Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), says in a statement. The EWG and other consumer advocacy groups helped build support for AB 418. “In the absence of federal leadership, it’s up to states like California to keep us safe from dangerous chemicals in candy, cookies and other foods our families enjoy,” Faber says.