Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

Landmark bill banning harmful food chemicals in California heads to governor

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – On September 12, the California Legislature passed a groundbreaking bill, the California Food Safety Act, to ban four harmful chemicals from candy, cereals, salad dressings and other processed food.

The bill, A.B. 418, by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), would end the use of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben and Red Dye No. 3 in popular 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 four 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 now go to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed.

“We are thrilled to move A.B. 418 to Governor Newsom’s desk. This marks 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,” he said.

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.

“Toxic chemicals that have been shown to cause cancer and other chronic health problems should not be allowed in our food,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.

“Unfortunately, the FDA hasn’t taken action to protect the public, despite the well-documented risks these harmful food chemicals pose to our health. We applaud state lawmakers for voting to ban these hazardous chemicals from food and urge Governor Newsom to sign this landmark legislation into law,” 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 four food chemicals covered by A.B. 418 have been linked to a number of serious health concerns. They were banned by the EU after it launched a comprehensive re-evaluation of the safety of all food additives in 2008.

“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, due in large part to 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.”

“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