California’s “Skittles bill” could kick off broader actions against food additives

By Shannon Kelleher

After years of US debate over widely used food additives, California is poised to become the first state in the nation to ban additives found in popular candies and other processed foods.

Assembly Bill 418, which was passed by the California Assembly in May, targets red dye No. 3, titanium dioxide, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, and propyl paraben – additives linked to health problems including cancer and hormone disruption. If successful, the bill would ban these ingredients, which are used in Skittles, Hot Tamales, and Sour Patch Kids, by 2025. The California Senate Committee on Health is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to move the bill forward.

Critics say the additives have not been meaningfully reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in decades despite scientific updates on their health risks, and that an FDA loophole has allowed thousands of chemicals to enter the US food system without proper safety reviews. They hope the California bill will help kick off broader nationwide efforts to reevaluate harmful food additives and ban those that jeopardize Americans’ health.

New York lawmakers  proposed a similar bill  in March, and earlier this month, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky reintroduced the Food Chemical Reassessment Act, which targets food additive reforms at the federal level. The bill seeks to create an Office of Food Safety Assessment within the FDA that would reevaluate chemicals that slipped into Americans’ favorite snacks without proper or recent review by the agency.

“I think [the California bill] demonstrates that FDA is not doing its job,” said Brian Ronholm, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Reports, which is co-sponsoring the bill with the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “They don’t have the ability to go back and re-review some of these additives that have been approved in the past, so therefore they haven’t looked at these in many years.”