Proposed California law could ban five of these ingredients in the next few years
Emmy Moss, Harper Sands, Ryder Sands
It turns out that the Skittles’ slogan “Taste the Rainbow” is not so colorful after all. California is trying to pass a bill that would ban the manufacturing, distribution and selling of the candy and any other products containing five chemicals that have been linked to health problems. This bill, which would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025, will make California the first state in the nation to ban these five chemicals.
According to CBS News, California’s Assembly Bill AB 418 advocates the ban on the manufacture and distribution of food containing red dye No. 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propylparaben.
Kelly Gubert, ESD parent and registered dietitian in Dallas, believes that Texas does not have legislators ready to back bills like the one in California.
“Texas is so poorly lacking in support overall for things like our nutrition support systems,” Gubert said. “I really hope it starts in California because if it starts somewhere in the United States, I think that’ll help push forward [and] other states [will] do it.”
Upper school chemistry teacher Anneke Albright said that these chemicals are being flagged as carcinogens in the respiratory system.
“When your body is breaking down these molecules, they break [it] down into nanoparticles,” Albright said. “Those nanoparticles, which are obviously very, very teeny, can accumulate in your lungs over time, kind of like someone who smokes once a week versus 10 years; you can see the difference in their lungs. The accumulation of all those poisons over time has to do with what your timeline is. If you were to [eat a] pack Skittles every day, you [would] probably have a concentration of those particles built up in your system because once your body breaks it down, it can’t break it down any further. It doesn’t know what to do with it. It just stays there.”
While the entire population can be affected by the consumption of these chemicals, kids are more vulnerable.
“Young children are the ones that are most affected because of their small body weight and because they are exposed to much more of these dyes in food,” Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior staff scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said during an interview with Consumers Report in February. “Even small amounts of the dye can add up and pose a risk to kids.”
Red dye No. 3, for example, is used in thousands of popular products, such as drinks, foods, candies and even cough medicine. Skittles, Hot Tamales, Nerds candies, Trolli gummies, Nesquik, instant rice, potato products, protein shakes and boxed cake mixes use this dye as an ingredient. According to the FDA’s estimation, “American children ages 2 to 5 end up consuming twice as much red dye No. 3 as the general population on a body-weight basis.”
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment reported that excessive amounts of red dye no. 3 causes hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral effects in children. However, according to The International Association of Color Manufacturers, consuming red dye No. 3 “is safe in levels that people can typically handle.”
There is a reason why food manufacturers in the U.S. use these controversial ingredients.
“It is cheap to manufacture,” Gubert said. “It makes them last long on the shelves as well as [looking] more appealing to [the] consumers.”
Gubert believes that if these foods remain a part of the American diet, over time, these chemicals will cause major health problems. There are many additives and ingredients that are controversial in the United States and are already banned across the globe. Gubert gave the example of the popular Kraft Mac & Cheese, which is sold in the U.S. and Europe.
“Mac & Cheese, [the kind] that you buy in the store in the box, has yellow food dye in it,” Gubert said. “Kraft sells Mac & Cheese in Europe without the yellow dye in it. So they have a formula they make for Europeans. They make it for Americans with the food coloring.”
Potassium bromate, a dough strengthener found in flour products, is another harmful additive. In an interview with CBS, Professor Eric Millstone from the University of Sussex in England, said that this ingredient is banned in Europe, China and India.
“There is evidence that it may be toxic to human consumers, that it may even either initiate or promote the development of tumors,” Millstone said to CBS.
Millstone also said that it is almost certain that Americans were likely unaware that they were being exposed on a daily basis to substances in their food viewed as dangerous in Europe.
However, potassium bromate is not the only chemical still used in the U.S. and banned in other countries. Titanium dioxide, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide and propylparaben are examples of ingredients that are used in the U.S. but not in Europe.
Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said in an interview with Food Navigator that there are alternatives, such as starch-based options, that could be used to give foods a similar look and taste without the need to use the controversial additives.
However, according to Albright, it is important to remember that foods containing these ingredients are not necessarily poisonous.
“There’s a lot of chemicals in there that you are not biologically predisposed to process,” Albright said. “But that doesn’t mean when you eat it once, you’re going to get cancer. So, if you want to eat foods and drinks containing it, the key is having it in moderation.”