California lawmakers are considering a measure that would change the ingredients of many popular candies by banning certain “toxic” chemicals.
Skittles, PEZ, and other favorite junk foods commonly found at your local grocery store would need new recipes if AB 418 becomes law. Introduced by Democratic state Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, the bill would ban the sale, manufacture and distribution of foods containing chemicals that have been linked to health risks including cancer, behavioral problems in children, harm to reproductive health and damage to the immune system.
The legislation would specifically ban foods containing Red Dye No. 3, Titanium Dioxide, Potassium Bromate, Brominated Vegetable Oil or Propyl Paraben.
“Californians shouldn’t have to worry that the food they buy in their neighborhood grocery store might be full of dangerous additives or toxic chemicals,” Gabriel said in a news release. “This bill will correct for a concerning lack of federal oversight and help protect our kids, public health, and the safety of our food supply.”
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These chemicals, which are ubiquitous in American candies, have already been banned in the European Union. Red Dye No. 3, a food coloring found in PEZ, Hot Tamales, and Sweethearts, has been linked to cancer. So has Titanium Dioxide, an ingredient in Skittles, Nerds and Trolli gummies.
But Gabriel insists his bill will not ban Skittles from being sold in California.
“I love Skittles. I love Wild Berry Skittles. I eat them all the time,” Gabriel told the Los Angeles Times. “I would vote against a bill to ban Skittles.”
“What we’re really trying to get them to do is to change their recipes,” he told the newspaper. “All of these are nonessential ingredients.”
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According to Gabriel’s office, the food additives targeted by AB 418 are a handful of thousands of chemicals added to food to make it last longer, taste better, and look more attractive to the eye. Most of these chemicals have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and several are “generally recognized as safe” — even though there’s been little oversight.
AB 418 is supported by the Environmental Working Group, which campaigns to remove allegedly toxic chemicals from the food supply.
“Why are these toxic chemicals in our food?” said Susan Little, the Environmental Working Group’s Governmental Affairs Senior Advocate for California in a statement. “We know they are harmful and that children are likely eating more of these chemicals 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.”
However, the bill faces opposition from the American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing companies engaged in the business of chemistry. The group says existing regulations are sufficient to ensure that foods with Titanium Dioxide are safe and that AB 418 is “an overly broad and unnecessary burden on consumers, manufacturers, and regulators.”
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“AB 418 unnecessarily politicizes food additive safety determinations and undermines thorough processes that rely on ongoing assessment of adverse event reports, peer-reviewed scientific research, and careful consideration of risk based on actual or reasonably anticipated dietary exposures,” the Titanium Dioxide Stewardship Council wrote.
The National Confectioners Association (NCA) also opposes the bill.
“Chocolate and candy are safe to enjoy, as they have been for centuries. We strongly oppose AB 418 because there is no evidence to support banning the ingredients listed in the bill,” the NCA said.
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“The ingredients that would be banned under this proposal have all been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food safety is the number one priority for U.S. confectionery companies, and we do not use any ingredients in our products that do not comply with the FDA’s strictest safety standards,” the group added.
The NCA is the leading trade organization for U.S. confectioners, which generates $42 billion in retail sales each year. Among the group’s membership is Mars Inc., which makes Skittles.
Last year, a group of consumers sued Mars, alleging that Skittles were “unfit for human consumption” because they contain Titanium Dioxide.
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Mars said it only uses “small amounts” of Titanium Dioxide in its candies and that it has complied with the FDA’s regulations. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit in November.
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