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California has become the first U.S. state to outlaw food additives that are linked to diseases such as cancer. Typically, artificial dyes and flavors come to mind when you think about food additives. Unsurprisingly, people who are trying to focus on their health meet them with a skeptical eye.

There is an enhancement in the market value of foods when using these ingredients by way of improved appearance, texture, and storage time. However, the U.S. state realized our brightly colored cereal with a 6-month shelf life may be compromising something of greater value: our health. 

This is the first time a state bans chemicals allowed by the FDA

California has followed the trajectory of many countries that have already banned four controversial food additives. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill – known as the California Food Safety Act – which will come into effect starting in 2027. The act prohibits the manufacturing, selling, and distributing of products containing red dye No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, and propylparaben.

These ingredients are illegal in the European Union and other parts of the world, while regularly sold food items in the U.S. contain them. With certain candies, sodas, and processed foods now clearly posing health risks, California is stepping up to protect its people. These steps have prompted the Food and Drug Administration to reassess the safety of food additives it had previously considered safe.

We recognize that California recently took steps to ban the use of four food ingredients, including BVO, in that state. “The agency is continuously reviewing and reassessing the safety of a variety of chemicals in food to ensure that science and the law support their safe use in food, including all four ingredients that are part of the recent California law,” announced the FDA.

Food additives raise serious health concerns

There is an association between these chemicals and serious health issues. Needless to say, the aim of The California Food Safety Act is to reduce our exposure to the food additives in question and their impact on our overall well-being.

Red dye No. 3

Red dye No. 3 is made from petroleum, and it gives snacks, sodas, and candies a bright red color. In 1990, the FDA restricted the use of red dye No. 3 in cosmetics after a study performed on lab animals found it to be carcinogenic. In spite of this, they proceeded to permit its use in the case of food consumption. Additionally, there is evidence that supports a relationship between artificial food dye exposure and neurobehavioral difficulties (such as ADHD) in children.

Brominated vegetable oil

Brominated vegetable oil (BMO) is used as an emulsifier and can be seen in the ingredients list of some citrus-flavored drinks and sodas. Reproductive and behavioral issues – among other health problems – have been apparent in lab animals subjected to this food additive. Moreover, a recent study conducted on rodents has tied it to thyroid damage. Major beverage manufacturers (including Coca-Cola and Pepsi) voluntarily discontinued their use of BMO years ago. Unfortunately, smaller store brands still add it to their products.

Potassium bromate

Potassium bromate is a food additive that works as a rising agent and texture-enhancer in baked goods. Studies have shown its potential to cause cancer alongside respiratory harm in lab animals. The need to reevaluate its use is crucial given that bread is a staple food across the globe and is frequently consumed by the poor (due to its affordability).

Propylparaben

Propylparaben acts as an anti-fungal and antimicrobial preservative found in foods and water-based cosmetics. It is believed to affect the reproductive system negatively. The concern lies in findings that demonstrate that the chemical mimics estrogen and functions as an endocrine disruptor. Essentially, this additive may decrease natural fertility.

Food companies have time to find alternatives

The passing of this new law will not strip existing food products from the shelves with immediate effect. Instead, a more reasonable order of action is to afford food companies the time to tweak their recipes. The goal is not to make popular products disappear from the shelves, but to make them healthier. Brands can modify their products using alternative ingredients that have already proven to be effective overseas.

According to the Environmental Working Group (an organization dedicated to health research and advocacy), who pushed for the bill, the rest of the nation may benefit from these changes, too. Undoubtedly, food manufacturers are not likely to create versions of their products exclusive to California. The state has the largest economy in the U.S., therefore, it makes zero financial sense to sell a different product in other parts of the country. Accordingly, food companies will alter their processes and suppliers to comply with these strict regulations.

The bottom line

This freshly established act in California is a food production breakthrough, but it also highlights an urgent need for the FDA to step up to the plate. Evidently, there is a gap between state and national food safety laws.

The FDA will need to adopt more science-based approaches to create protocols that reflect consumer concerns about food additives. Public health and safety are fundamental to this new order; the hope is that other states will conform soon for the sake of a healthier nation.

References

California Legislative Information. (2023, October 9). The California Food Safety Act. California Legislative Information. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240AB418.
Kobylewski, S., Jacobson, M.F. (2012, July). Toxicology of food dyes. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23026007/.
Kurokawa, Y., Maekawa, A., et al. (1990, July). Toxicity and carcinogenicity of potassium bromate–a new renal carcinogen. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1567851/.
Miller, M.D., Steinmaus, C., et al. (2022, April 29). Potential impacts of synthetic food dyes on activity and attention in children: a review of the human and animal evidence. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9052604/.
Wang, D., Weike, L., et al. (2021, November). Exposure to ethylparaben and propylparaben interfere with embryo implantation by compromising endometrial decidualization in early pregnant mice. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34101200/.
Woodling, K.A., Chitranshi, P., et al. (2022, July). Toxicological evaluation of brominated vegetable oil in Sprague Dawley rats. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278691522003350.
Cover Image Source: ReAgent
Caela Bennett

Caela Bennett

Caela Bennett is a wellness content writer and holistic health coach. She hopes to enlighten people through powerful storytelling and offer clarity when navigating the noise within the realm of health. In addition, she guides others in awakening their self-discovery journey and embodying the best version of themselves. Her work is rooted in the philosophy of alchemy: turning metal into gold, i.e., transforming one thing into something better. While she is a maximalist in expressing herself through words, she is a minimalist in lifestyle pursuits.

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