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California Senate Health Committee approves landmark bill banning toxic food chemical bill

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – On June 28, the California Senate Committee on Health approved a first-in-the-nation bill to ban five harmful chemicals from candy, cereals and other processed food.

Assembly Bill 418, by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), would end the use of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben, Red Dye No. 3 and titanium dioxide in food products sold in the state. The chemicals are linked to serious health problems, such as a higher risk of cancer, nervous system damage and hyperactivity.

European regulators have already banned the five substances from use in food, with the narrow exception of Red No. 3 in candied cherries. Given the size of California’s economy, A.B. 418 would set an important precedent for improving the safety of many processed foods.

The Environmental Working Group and Consumer Reports are co-sponsoring A.B. 418. The bill will next be heard and voted on by the state Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Following Europe’s lead and protecting U.S. consumers is the right step, despite alarmist claims from opponents of the bill that it would end the sale of candy and other popular items in the state.

“Today’s strong vote is a major step forward in our effort to protect children and families in California from dangerous and toxic chemicals in our food supply,” said Gabriel, chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.

He added, “It’s unacceptable that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to banning these dangerous additives.”

“We don’t love our children any less than they do in Europe, and it’s not too much to ask food and beverage manufacturers to switch to the safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other nations around the globe,” said Gabriel.

More than 10,000 chemicals are allowed for use in food sold in the U.S. Nearly 99 percent of those introduced since 2000 were approved by the food and chemical industry, not the Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring our food supply is safe.

“The last time some of these chemicals were assessed by the FDA was almost 50 years ago,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.

“A number of peer-reviewed studies have linked these food chemicals to serious health risks since that time, but the FDA is not required to reexamine them once they’re allowed on the market,” added Ronholm.

“That’s why it’s so critical for states like California to take action. If this measure is enacted, it would likely prompt food manufacturers to stop putting these toxic chemicals in products sold in the rest of the country – meaning safer food for everyone.” he said.

Most chemicals added to food and food packaging to enhance flavor or appearance, or to preserve freshness, are likely safe to eat. But the five food chemicals covered by A.B. 418 have been linked to a number of serious health concerns. The European Union banned them in 2008, after a comprehensive re-evaluation of the safety of all food additives.

“What are these toxic chemicals doing in our food?” said Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs.

“We know they are harmful and that children are likely being exposed at a much higher rate than adults. It makes no sense that the same products food manufacturers sell in California are sold in the EU but without these toxic chemicals,” Little said.

“Our kids need to be protected, too,” she added. “These harmful additives have no place in California’s food supply.”

Children have lower tolerance levels than adults to chemical exposure, and their developing bodies make them especially vulnerable.

Consumers consistently rank food chemical concerns ahead of other food safety issues. But additives are not adequately regulated by the FDA, in large part because of the lack of financial support from Congress for food chemical review.

“For decades, the FDA has failed to keep us safe from toxic food chemicals,” said Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs.

“The chemical companies keep exploiting a loophole that allows for food additives that have not been adequately reviewed for safety by the FDA. And the FDA consistently fails to reassess chemicals, even in light of new science. The food and confectioners industries know the review process at the FDA is broken,” he added.

“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,” said Faber.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537