The Environmental Working Group co-sponsored a state bill that would prohibit making or selling foods that contain any of five common additives.

Victoria A.F. Camron, Digital content specialist

April 19, 2023

3 Min Read
Artificial additives such as red dye No. 3 could be banned in California | Cake with red, orange, purple and other colored la

California might become the first state to ban five harmful food additives, as a bill has passed out of the state's Committee on Health.

The proposal would prohibit both the manufacture and sale of the additives—red dye No. 3, titanium dioxide, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and propylparaben—which have been linked to cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders and hormone problems. A variety of health associations submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a citizens petition asking the agency to reconsider the safety of these additives, including the Environmental Defense Fund, American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Food Safety, Clean Label Project, Environmental Working Group, Endocrine Society and American Academy of Pediatrics.

New Hope Network already bans the FD&C artificial colors such as red dye No. 3 from being exhibited at Natural Products Expo events. The Standards Team is discussing the prohibition of bromates, parabens and brominated vegetable oil from exhibits, said Standards Director Michelle Zerbib. For now, titanium dioxide is still acceptable for exhibit.

Artificial additives aren't needed

Assembly Bill 418, introduced in February by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-San Fernando Valley), was co-sponsored by the Environmental Working Group and Consumer Reports, according to The Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials passed the bill on Wednesday and it is heading to the appropriations committee.

"Most of the chemicals added to food and food packaging to enhance flavor or appearance, to preserve freshness, or to serve other purposes in food are likely safe to eat," the Environmental Working Group reports, with a list of the additives and some related public health concerns.

Children are especially at risk of the additives' health effects, Dr. Leonardo Trasande told The New York Times.

"Kids eat more, pound for pound," said the professor of pediatrics who specializes in environmental health. "Their developing organs are especially vulnerable."

But that doesn't mean adults are safe.

"The more we consumer of a certain product, the more likely it is that we're going to have negative side effects in our body," Dana Hunnes, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA, told CBS News.

The additives can be found in thousands of food items in the United States, such as cake mixes, fruit cups, fruit juice, sliced bread, trail mix and more, the Los Angeles Times reported on March 27.

The European Union has banned or severely restricted the use of these additives, which proves they are not needed, Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president of government affairs, told the Los Angeles Times.

“As someone who worked for the food industry, the only reason that companies are fighting to preserve these chemicals is because it’s inconvenient to change their recipes,” said Faber, who previously served as head of government affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is now the Consumer Brands Association.

During a March press conference, Gabriel said the FDA allows companies to designate their own ingredients as "generally regarded as safe," which means they bypass federal safety checks, CapRadio, Sacramento's public radio station, reported.

The FDA banned red dye No. 3 from cosmetic use—including lipsticks, blushes, skin care lotions and bath oils—in 1990 because it was shown to cause thyroid cancer in rats, The Associated Press reported at the time. It also was prohibited in cake frostings, cough drops, herbs and spices, and other ingredients. Still, it was allowed in meat, pet food, fruit juices, candy and more.

A similar bill, S6055A, has been introduced in the New York Senate. It was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee in March. A version in the Assembly has been assigned to that chamber's Agriculture Committee.

If the bills are approved, they will become effective in 2025.

About the Author(s)

Victoria A.F. Camron

Digital content specialist, New Hope Network

Victoria A.F. Camron was a freelance writer and editor contracted with New Hope Network from 2015 until April 2022, when she was hired as New Hope Network's digital content specialist—otherwise known as the web editor.

As she continues the work she has done for years—covering the natural products industry for and Natural Foods Merchandiser; writing up earnings calls and other corporate news; and curating roundups of trends and information for the website—she is thrilled to be an official part of the New Hope team. (She doesn't mind having paid holidays and vacations again, though!) Victoria also compiled and edited newsletters, and served as interim content director for Delicious Living in 2016.

Before working as a freelancer, she spent 17 years in community newspapers in Longmont, Colorado, and St. Charles and Wheaton, Illinois. Victoria is a Colorado native and a graduate of Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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