latest news End of the rainbow? California bill would ban Skittles, other sweets

The snack and candy aisles of your local grocery store may soon have fewer items if a bill proposed by California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel passes.

Last month, Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) introduced AB 418, which would ban the sale, manufacture and distribution of foods containing chemicals linked to health conditions including reduced immune response, hyperactivity in children and an increased risk of cancer.

The bill would make California the first state to ban the sale and manufacture of foods containing chemicals, according to a statement from Gabriel’s office.

The chemicals, currently banned in the European Union, are found in many staple foods, including Skittles, Mountain Dew, Ding Dongs (with red heart nuggets) and a host of other ubiquitous food items.

California lawmakers supporting the bill pointed to a number of scientific studies that have shown links between the chemicals – which include the red dye no. 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propyl paraben – and health issues. In a study cited by Gabriel’s office, titanium dioxide, used in Skittles as a coloring agent, was found to be associated with decreased immune responses in rats.

A lawsuit filed last year in California against Mars, which makes Skittles, claimed the colored confections were “unfit for human consumption” because of titanium dioxide.

The substance is approved by the FDA, which says it cannot make up more than 1% of the food by weight.

“California people shouldn’t have to worry that the food they buy at their neighborhood grocery store is full of dangerous additives or toxic chemicals,” Gabriel said in a statement last month. “This bill will correct a disturbing lack of federal oversight and help protect our children, public health and the safety of our food supply.”

Dana Hunnes, clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and assistant professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, said she supports the ban but acknowledged the debates that have swirled around some of the additives.

“Certainly some of [the chemicals] are probably more dangerous than some others,” Hunnes said in an interview with The Times. “We know that parabens, for example, are endocrine disruptors [which affect hormones]. We know that red dyes are carcinogenic.

But Hunnes said questions remained about whether results from tests on animals such as rats could be extrapolated to humans.

“And that begs the question of why bother testing animals and showing that some of them [chemicals] cause cancer in animals if we’re not going to link that somehow to human health,” Hunnes said.

Still, Hunnes said removing some of the chemicals from Californians’ diets would be a good thing.

“Overall, I think the less additives we eat in food and the less processed foods,” she said, “the better off we’ll all be.”

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