California Bans Four Food Additives with AB 418

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed, on October 7, the first-of-its-kind legislation to prohibit the use of four additives in processed foods and drinks sold in California called the California Food Safety Act (AB) 418.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) is the author of AB 418. It will start in 2027 and prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution in California of any food product containing Red Dye No. 3, Potassium Bromate, Brominated Vegetable Oil, or PropylParaben.

“Californians trust that the food products they consume are safe. I appreciate the author and stakeholders for working on amendments, which advance our shared public health objectives while maintaining consumer choice,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a signing statement.

Due to health risks like cancer and developmental problems, these chemicals are prohibited in many countries, including 27 nations of the European Union.

“Signing this into law is a positive step forward on these four food additives until the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews and establishes national updated safety levels for these additives,” the California Governor added.

AB 418 was amended in the State Senate to remove titanium dioxide from the list of banned additives and delay the bill’s implementation until 2027, giving food companies more than enough time to negotiate new contracts and phase in new recipes.

“The Governor’s signature represents a huge step forward in our effort to protect children and families in California from dangerous and toxic chemicals in our food supply,” Assemblymember Gabriel said in a statement.

While signing the new law, Governor Newsom remarked that many things could be improved about this bill and its impact. He cited the example of the bag of the popular “Skittles” candy, which became the face of this bill. “This particular bag of candy comes from the European Union – a place that already bans a number of chemical additives and colorants. This is demonstrable proof that the food industry is capable of maintaining its product lines while complying with different public health laws, country to country.”

In this matter, the National Confectioners Association (NCA), which promotes the role of chocolate, candy, gum, and mints, made a statement.

“California is once again making decisions based on soundbites rather than science. Governor Newsom’s 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 rigor of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives.”

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The chemicals mentioned by AB 418 have already been banned in the European Union (EU) and many other countries due to scientific research linking them to significant health harms, including cancer, reproductive issues, and behavioral and developmental issues in children.

Many major brands and manufacturers – including Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade, and Panera – have voluntarily stopped using the additives that would be banned under AB 418 because of concerns about their impact on human health. One of these chemicals – Red Dye No. 3 – is already banned by the FDA for cosmetics use but is still allowed in food.

“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.”

With this new law, companies will have to modify products sold in California, likely triggering a nationwide transition to safer alternatives.

“AB 418 is the most important food safety bill in more than a decade and its passage would be a historic victory for protecting kids and families from dangerous food chemicals,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “For decades, chemical companies have been able to exploit a loophole that allows food additives to escape adequate review and oversight by the FDA. Since the FDA has failed to keep us safe, it has become the responsibility of states like California to step up and lead.”

A Close Look to the Banned Food Additives by AB 418

  • Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)

Vegetable oil to which bromine is added. Found in carbonated orange drinks and fruit-flavored energy drinks. Used in small amounts, it prevents some beverages’ citrus flavor from floating to the surface. Europe and Japan have banned it in beverages.

  • Potassium Bromate

Ingredient has been used since 1916 in some commercially produced baked goods. It is added to flour to strengthen the dough and allow it to rise more, benefits that have led many U.S. companies to adopt it. Brazil, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom have banned it.

  • PropylParaben

Used as an antimicrobial preservative in food. In 2006, the European Union removed the chemical from its list of authorized food additives.

  • Red Colorant 3

A common colorant found in over 2,000 products, also known as erythrosine or FD&C Red No. 3. It is a. It is used in many processed foods. Still, it is generally found in cookies and decorated candies, especially seasonal ones. In 1990, the FDA banned many uses of this dye, but not in foods.

Sources: Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Working Group (EWG) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).