California bans Red 3 and other unnecessary food additives, outpacing FDA

Supermarket aerial shot showing aisle after aisle of pre-packaged foods

Peter Bond -

Food industry has until 2027 to comply

The carcinogenic food dye Red 3 will no longer be allowed in foods sold in the state of California following Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature yesterday on landmark legislation, which will also prohibit the use of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, and propylparaben by 2027. 

The enactment of the California legislation (AB 418) makes the Golden State the first in the country to bar the use in packaged foods of these additives currently deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.  

The FDA learned Red 3 was a carcinogen in the 1980s and declared it as such in 1990. For that reason, the agency eliminated Red 3 from cosmetics and drugs applied to the skin. That same year, the FDA said it would “take steps” to ban the use of Red 3 in foods, ingested drugs, and dietary supplements. With inaction in the intervening decades, the Center for Science in the Public Interest last year petitioned the FDA to finally eliminate the carcinogenic dye from the food supply. 

CSPI says it hopes the California legislation will inspire similar efforts around the country and prompt the FDA to eliminate the four additives. It wouldn’t be the first time California acted more quickly to protect consumers from a food ingredient than the FDA, according to the group. In 2008, the state banned artificial trans fat from restaurant food long before the FDA’s 2015 determination that partially hydrogenated oils were not safe for use in food

“Most people would be quite surprised to learn that a known carcinogen is banned for use in lipstick but still widely used in thousands of foods, including many candies, baked goods, and drinks marketed to children,” said CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie. “California has corrected that absurdity for Californians, and, if past is prologue, the impact of this law will reverberate throughout the nation and at the FDA.” 

The California legislation was spearheaded by Assemblymembers Jesse Gabriel and Buffy Wicks, with the support of Environmental Working Group, Consumer Reports, and others. Similar legislation is pending in the New York State legislature, sponsored by State Senator Brian Kavanaugh. That bill includes titanium dioxide as well as the additives included in the California law. 

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