The governor of California Gavin Newsom has signed into law the first ban in the US on brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and erythrosine in food uses. The new law, which goes into effect in January 2027, prohibits the manufacture, sale, and distribution of food products that contain any of those four substances. Together, these additives have been associated with neurological problems, endocrine disruption, hyperactivity, and an increased risk of cancer. In Europe, all four are already banned from food, except for one specific use of erythrosine (commonly known as red dye 3), which is allowed in candied cherries.

Newsom signed the measure into law on 7 October, and it is backed by organisations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Consumer Reports. ‘It’s unacceptable that the US is so far behind the rest of the world regarding food safety,’ said California state representative Jesse Gabriel, the bill’s author. Rather than banning any foods or products, the new law will require food companies to make ‘minor modifications’ to their recipes and switch to safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and elsewhere around the world, he explained.

The law makes the California the first US state to ban the use in packaged foods of these additives currently deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consumption, notes the Washington, DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. The non-profit hopes the law will inspire similar efforts around the country and prompt the FDA to eliminate these substances from food.

The new law could have reverberations beyond California. ‘Given the size of the state’s economy, it is unlikely manufacturers will produce two versions of their product — one to be sold in California and one for the rest of the country,’ EWG said. The organisation has calculated that as many as 12,000 products may be affected by the measure.

Meanwhile, similar legislation to ban the same four chemicals plus titanium dioxide from foods from January 2025 was introduced in the New York legislature in March. It is currently being reviewed by the state’s senate agriculture committee.

But others believe the new law in California sets a dangerous precedent regarding food safety standards in the US. In a national food system, it’s critical for state officials to collaborate with experts at the federal level, such as FDA, to maintain consistency, uniformity, and consumer confidence in the nation’s food safety system, Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s former deputy commissioner for food policy and response, tells Chemistry World.

‘By not doing so, our country is left with a state-by-state patchwork of different, emerging regulatory standards that weaken our nation’s food system and food safety efforts,’ he warns.