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End of the rainbow? California bill would ban sales of Skittles, other ‘toxic’ snacks


The snack and candy aisles at your local grocery store could soon have fewer items if a bill proposed by California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel becomes law.

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

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

The chemicals, currently banned in the European Union, are found in numerous snack staples, including Skittles, Mountain Dew, Ding Dongs (with red heart sprinkles), and a host of other ubiquitous foods.

California lawmakers backing the bill pointed to a series of scientific studies that showed links between the chemicals, which include red dye no. 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propyl paraben, and health problems. In a study cited by Gabriel’s office, titanium dioxide, used in Skittles as a dye, 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 colorful candies were “unfit for human consumption” due to titanium dioxide.

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

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

Dana Hunnes, a clinical dietitian at the UCLA Medical Center and an assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said she supported the ban, but acknowledged the debates that have raged around some of the additives.

“Certainly some of (the chemicals) are probably more dangerous than some of the others,” Hunnes said in an interview with The Times. “We know that parabens, for example, are endocrine disruptors (affecting 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 raises the question of why bother testing on animals and showing that some of these (chemicals) cause cancer in animals if we’re not going to tie that in some way to human health,” Hunnes said.

Still, Hunnes said it would be nice to remove some of the chemicals from Californians’ diets.

“In general, I think the fewer additives in food and the less processed food we eat,” he said, “the better off we’ll all be.”

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