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Hot Cheetos and other snacks with common food dyes would be banned from California schools under new legislation

This Sept. 26, 2014, file photo shows Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke
AP Photo
This Sept. 26, 2014, file photo shows Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos in Philadelphia.

A year after passing legislation to ban the sale of certain food additives in California, a state lawmaker wants to remove additional ingredients and synthetic dyes from school cafeterias and vending machines.

Assembly member Jesse Gabriel’s legislation would ban California’s public schools from selling or distributing foods with six dyes that have been linked to behavioral issues in children.

The ingredients are deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but Gabriel and others point out they are banned in the European Union and other countries including South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

A 2021 state study also linked synthetic food dye consumption to hyperactivity and neurobehavioral problems in children.

If approved by the California Legislature, the bill would remove popular foods like Hot Cheetos, Doritos, M&Ms, sports drinks, some juices and sodas, Twinkies and sugary breakfast cereals like Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch from public schools.

It would still allow them to be sold elsewhere in the state.

Gabriel, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, said he struggled with ADHD as a student and now is parenting a child with the disorder.

“This is very personal to me,” he said. “It harms our kids and it undermines our investments when we provide them with support and therapy in the morning and then at lunch, we expose them to chemicals that undo all of that good work.”

The National Confectioners Association, a trade organization representing candy companies including Mars, Haribo and Hershey, called the legislation part of a “sensationalistic agenda which is not based on facts and science.”

“These activists are dismantling our national food safety system state by state in an emotionally-driven campaign that lacks scientific backing,” an NCA spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Gabriel acknowledged “the science here is complicated” but noted many of the synthetic dyes his bill would ban from schools have not been reviewed by the FDA in decades.

“Many of these studies were done in the 1960s. That's when football players were smoking cigarettes at halftime. Our understanding of science and human physiology has improved dramatically since then,” he said.

Food safety advocates have also called on the FDA to review its approval of synthetic food dyes.

Chef Tom Colicchio — of “Top Chef” fame — is supporting the legislation and said, if approved, it would only require minor changes for most affected foods.

“Food companies aren't going to really go through a major hardship on this,” Colicchio said. “They can very easily change some of their practices.”

The ingredients included in Gabriel’s bill are red dye No. 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2 and Green 3 — as well as the additive titanium dioxide.

He was behind a bill approved last year, which prohibits the sale of foods containing red dye No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and propylparaben in California beginning in 2027.

Nicole covers politics and government for CapRadio. Before moving to California, she won several awards, including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, for her political reporting in her hometown of Salt Lake City. Besides public radio, Nicole is passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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