California Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials approved a first-in-the-nation bill to ban five harmful chemicals from candy, cereals and other processed food.

The bill, AB 418 by assembly member Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), would end the use of brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben, Red Dye No. 3 and titanium dioxide in popular food products sold in the state. The chemicals are reportedly linked to serious health problems, such as a higher risk of cancer, nervous system damage and hyperactivity.

European regulators have already banned all five substances from use in food, with the narrow exception of Red No. 3 in candied cherries. Given the size of California’s economy, A.B. 418 would set a precedent for improving the safety of processed foods.

“There is no realistic chance that this bill will result in Skittles or any other product being pulled off the shelf,” says Gabriel, chair of the assembly committee on privacy and consumer protection. “The idea here is for these companies to make minor modifications to their recipes so that these products no longer include dangerous and toxic chemicals. Skittles and many other brands have already made changes to their recipes in the European Union, the United Kingdom and other nations where these chemicals are banned. While the chemical companies might want you to believe we’re going too far with this bill, we are, in fact, many steps behind the rest of the world. We simply want our kids to have the same protection.”

The Environmental Working Group and Consumer Reports are co-sponsoring AB 418. The California Assembly’s Appropriations Committee will next consider the bill. 

More than 10,000 chemicals are allowed for use in food sold in the U.S. Nearly 99% of those introduced since 2000 were reportedly approved by the food and chemical industry, not the Food and Drug Administration.

According to Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, “At a time when the FDA’s weak oversight has prevented it from taking action, it is critical for states like California to ensure consumers are protected from these toxic food chemicals. By removing these harmful chemicals from candies, cookies and other processed food, this bill will protect Californians and encourage manufacturers to make their products safer for the rest of the country.” 

Most of the chemicals added to food and food packaging to enhance flavor or appearance, or to preserve freshness, are likely safe to eat. But the five food chemicals covered by AB 418 have been linked to a number of serious health concerns. They were banned by the EU after it launched a comprehensive re-evaluation of the safety of all food additives in 2008.

“What are these toxic chemicals doing in our food?” says Susan Little, EWG’s senior advocate for California government affairs. “We know they are harmful and that children are likely being exposed at a much higher rate than adults. It makes no sense that the same products food manufacturers sell in California are sold in the EU but without these toxic chemicals.”