Debate Surrounding California’s Food Additive Ban Heats Up

closeup photo of cupcakes on round white ceramic plate

Last week, the National Confectioners Association spoke out against a growing swath of pending state-level proposals stemming from California’s 2023 ban on Red Dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), and propylparaben.

According to Consumer Reports, while the four FDA-approved food additives have been used for decades, those approvals are similarly dated, and new evidence has changed the scientific understanding of the ingredients and the ways that chemicals can affect human health over time.

Recent medical studies have linked their consumption to serious health problems, including cancer, hyperactivity, and neurological disruptions.

Rulings and Reception Vary by State

Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania are among a handful of states considering copycat proposals. Meanwhile, Indiana, Maryland, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia have rejected similar bills because the proposals lack scientific basis.

Opponents of the legislation reflect similar sentiments, citing that the additives have been evaluated and approved for use by the FDA.

In a statement released on March 20, John Downs, president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association, called the ban and related proposals “an emotionally driven campaign that lacks scientific backing.”

“FDA needs to assert its authority as the rightful national regulatory decision maker and leader in food safety,” said Downs, adding that there has been widespread media attention given to this topic, but “no accountability and little to no fact-checking happening.”

Earlier this month, the FDA added potassium bromate and propylparaben to their science-based review process. The agency also conducted its own studies on brominated vegetable oil and has initiated steps to remove it from the U.S. food supply.

These additives have already been banned in other parts of the world due to the potential negative effects on health, notes Lena Bakovic, MS, RDN, CNSC, and a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition.

“For this reason, if the FDA acts to instill bans in other states or nationwide, consumers will likely have more trust (rather than less) in FDA regulatory actions as the U.S. will be acting to catch up to the rest of the world in the context of food safety,” Bakovic told The Food Institute.

Impacts on Food Manufacturers

Regardless of the outcome of adjacent proposals, the ban in California will most likely impact major food producers across the country.

According to Bakovic, advocacy groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have stated that manufacturers are unlikely to produce two different versions of the same product — one with the banned ingredients and one without.

“If that happens, manufacturing will likely lead to standardized production across state lines,” she said. “Red Dye 3, BVO, and potassium bromates already have some restrictions in certain states and food companies have adapted in one way or another.”

Although the California Food Safety Act does not go into effect until January 2027, some companies have already started replacing the additives and could get their new versions on the market sooner. For example, Just Born – which makes popular Peeps candies – told Consumer Reports that after Easter 2024 none of its products will be produced using Red No. 3.