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California's crusade on chemicals

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

By Andrew Duval and Eleanor Gil Nov. 9, 2023

Mingyue Xiao Art

California governor Gavin Newsom passed a bill on Oct. 7 banning four specific chemicals from all foods and beverages, making California the first state to ban FDA-approved substances. The bill will take effect in 2027.

Assembly Bill 408 will ban the production, distribution and sale of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and Red No.3, a food dye. If a person or entity violates the ban, they will face a civil penalty of up to $5,000. Most of these banned products are not harmful enough to cause significant damage to the body, but over time, exposure can lead to numerous side effects. For instance, brominated vegetable oil can irritate the skin and mucous membranes and cause numerous neurological symptoms like headaches and memory loss. Some of the products are linked to cancer as well—Red No.3 has been proven to induce cancer in lab animals from various testings, as well as contribute to behavioral problems such as hyperactivity in children.

In the European Union, all of these products are already banned, although propylparaben is only banned for cosmetic products. Propylparabens are preservatives often used in personal care products but also in foods such as specific brands of muffins, trail mix and pancakes. A Harvard study suggests that propylparabens are linked to diminished fertility in women, and a study by Pereira-Fernandes et al. found that propylparabens disrupt thyroid hormones and contribute to fat accumulation. Despite this, some scientists and the FDA claim that parabens in low doses, especially found in cosmetics, hardly cause harm to the body. Nevertheless, if such low, FDA-approved doses of parabens are being consumed constantly, whether it be through makeup or diet, they could accumulate and lead to serious harm, as cited by the food-certified journal Eating Well.

Many chemicals are banned in cosmetics but not food because the chemicals are on permanently approved lists for food and would take separate action to be removed. Adding to the difficulty, the banned products are very prevalent throughout food products. Red No. 3, for example, can be found in sodas, juice, yogurt and frozen desserts. As is brominated vegetable oil, seen in familiar brands such as Mountain Dew, Crush Pineapple and Sun Drop.

“Consuming harmful chemicals on a regular basis could be very damaging to one’s health. As much as I love Mountain Dew, they should change their recipe in order to protect consumers, ” Senior Justin Etter said.

Although California’s government cites these dangers as the reason to ban the products, The National Confectioners Association (NCA) spoke out against the ban, arguing that the Californian government was basing its decision on “soundbites rather than science.” However, although the ties to cancer are not strongly established enough in many people’s eyes, a clear connection has been made between Red No.3 and hyperactivity in younger children. Foods containing Red No.3 are also more commonly consumed in disadvantaged communities, leading to a disproportionate impact.

“These harmful chemicals should not be banned as it is not the government's responsibility to make healthy decisions for us; Rather, it is our responsibility to limit ourselves,” Sophomore Gavin Liu said.

The NCA also asserted that the ban would lead to product shortages. In countries where the additives are already banned, most corporations switched to alternative recipes. However, an FDA spokesperson claimed that the U.S. relies on a unified food system, and California banning them while other states do not could leave California without certain food products.

Newsom’s passing of the bill is significant for many because it represents critical efforts to protect Californians from harmful chemicals in their food. Hopes are rising that the new California law will allow the FDA to realize the harm of various chemicals and execute a national ban against them in the future. Regardless of the impact of the chemicals, the ban is a landmark bill that will change how food and additives are regulated.


About the contributors

Andrew Duval

page editor

Andrew Duval is a sophomore at Leland High School and is the Sports and Fun Page Editor for The Charger Account. He loves listening to music and playing with his yellow lab Winston.

Eleanor Gil

staff writer

Eleanor Gil is currently a sophomore at Leland High and an enthusiastic writer for The Charger Account. She spends her free time cultivating her deep passions for environmental sustainability and renewable energy, neuroscience and psychology, the law, tennis, and viola.

Mingyue Xiao


Mingyue Xiao is a freshman at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. She does dance, pottery and loves to read.

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