In summary

Five food additives found in popular candies such as Skittles and Sour Patch Kids have been deemed unsafe by a growing body of research. The food industry is mobilizing to stop a bill that would ban the chemicals in California.

Guest Commentary written by

Brian Ronholm

Brian Ronholm

Brian Ronholm is the director of food policy at Consumer Reports.

Food companies shouldn’t be allowed to sell products in the U.S. made with toxic chemicals while they sell the same products in other countries without them.

Yet that’s exactly what happens with certain candies, baked goods and beverages. Manufacturers ship products with safer ingredients to other countries while the inferior versions containing harmful chemicals and additives are sold every day in America.

A bill by Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat, would prohibit the use of five toxic chemicals found in candies such as Skittles and Sour Patch Kids. Recent scientific evidence has linked certain food additives to serious health problems, including higher risk of cancer, nervous system damage, hyperactivity and other neurological problems.

The risks posed by these five food chemicals – BVOpotassium bromatepropyl parabenred dye No. 3 and titanium dioxide – are particularly concerning for children, who often consume these candies at higher rates than adults and whose developing bodies are particularly vulnerable to toxic exposure.

The proposal to ban them, Assembly Bill 418, was approved by the California Assembly in May but is now facing fierce industry opposition in the Senate.

Because of the health risks, these chemicals have been banned or severely restricted in the European Union and other countries. To continue selling their products there, food manufacturers replaced the toxic ingredients with readily available alternatives that are safer and, in some cases, more cost effective. However, they have continued using the banned chemicals in products sold in the U.S.

After AB 418 passed the Assembly by an overwhelming 54-12 vote, the food industry began blitzing the capital with an army of lobbyists to try to stop the bill in the Senate, arguing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reviewed the safety of these ingredients and will take care of it without California needing to act.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Jesse Gabriel

Jesse Gabriel

State Assembly, District 46 (Woodland Hills)

Jesse Gabriel

State Assembly, District 46 (Woodland Hills)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 46 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 51%
GOP 19%
No party 23%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Jesse Gabriel has taken at least $915,000 from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 20% of his total campaign contributions.

However, the FDA is not required to reexamine additives once they are allowed on the market, so the last time some of these chemicals were assessed was almost 50 years ago.

For years, studies have highlighted the health risks posed by the dangerous additives that would be banned under AB 418. Given the FDA’s ongoing failure to act, it’s critical for states like California to protect consumers from harmful ingredients.

The industry is also pointing to a recent FDA blog post announcing how the agency intends to take a new approach to reviewing chemicals, which would make California’s legislation unnecessary. However, the blog post provided few details, no deadlines and made no commitment for new resources. It merely stated that they would like to do more to review chemicals, but would need additional funding and authority from Congress.

The likelihood for that type of action is unclear, and consumers shouldn’t have to wait.

Californians deserve to know that the food they purchase is safe to eat. State lawmakers should resist the food industry’s misinformation campaign and prohibit companies from selling inferior products containing toxic chemicals in California.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: