States, consumer groups target food additives, while NCA defends safety

Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group support state legislative efforts to ban food additives, prompting industry opposition, as concerns over regulatory expertise, consumer confusion and food safety arise. A representative from NCA explains why these matters should be left to the professionals at accredited government agencies like FDA.

Cindy Hazen, Contributing writer

April 17, 2024

3 Min Read
chocolate candy

At a Glance

  • Consumer groups are lobbying for state bans on food additives, arguing that these additives are unsafe.
  • NCA and other industry representatives oppose the proposed bans, citing concerns over regulatory expertise.
  • FDA is reviewing food additives and taking steps to remove some from the market, highlighting the ongoing regulatory process.

On April 8, Consumer Reports published an article about state legislative actions regarding food additives. In 2023, California banned four food ingredients effective 2027. Recently, another bill was introduced that would prohibit schools from serving foods containing seven color additives. Both bills are sponsored by Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group, two organizations that are promoting similar agendas in other states. New York, Illinois, Washington, Missouri, South Dakota and Pennsylvania have pending legislation.

Christopher Gindlesperger, SVP of public affairs and communications at the National Confectioners Association (NCA) spoke to Food & Beverage Insider in opposition to these bills. “I think it’s time to stop pretending that state legislators and magazine publishers have the scientific expertise that’s needed to make these very technical and important regulatory decisions,” he said. “Those with the expertise and the authority to make these decisions should be involved in the conversation. And what has happened so far is that a few groups, which are not comprised of toxicologists, have been working with state legislators, and in all due respect, they don’t have the experience, the know-how and the knowledge base to make these decisions.”

Pennsylvania State Representative Natalie Mihalek, who is leading legislation that would ban the same chemical additives as California, admits her lack of knowledge on her website: “I should have paid closer attention in chemistry class because I had no idea what most of these ingredients were, let alone be able to pronounce them with any sort of accuracy. So, I did what we all do when curiosity gets the best of us, and I Googled it. And then I Googled some more.”

Gindlesperger pointed to an oversight by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, author of the California bills. In a press conference, Gabriel said instead of getting the color from a synthetic food dye, they could get it from pomegranate juice or other natural ingredients.


“I think that signifies a lack of understanding of the food safety process in our country,” Gindlesperger said. “The rule is that any substance that imparts color on food must be reviewed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) without exception. And pomegranate juice and pomegranates are not an approved color by FDA. To suggest that there’s a natural or organic substitute that can easily be swapped into formulas is not accurate.”

As states overrule FDA’s authority, he foresees increased food costs, consumer confusion and erosion of consumer confidence in our food safety system, which he said is the best in the world.

Toxicologists are entering the debate. In an article posted on, James Coughlin, Ph.D., CFS, and Craig Llewellyn, Ph.D., wrote, “Numerous reports have included reference to the potential banning of the food additives in other countries, insinuating that the U.S. lags in safeguarding consumers. These allegations, however, stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the science of toxicology, the linchpin of food additive safety, and the meticulous regulatory oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

In the wake of legislation, FDA is reviewing food additives such as brominated vegetable oil, which was banned in California. Based on its own studies, the agency has initiated steps to remove it from the food supply. “This is how our food safety system was designed to work, and it’s a real-time example of it working,” Gindlesperger said.

It’s important to note that FDA has a system of reviewing post-market additives. “Some of the activity happened prior to legislation being introduced in California,” Gindlesperger explained. “I think the conversation is much more heated in the media and elsewhere related to the topic of food additives than it was prior to the legislation being introduced, but I don’t think that’s a key indicator of regulatory activity. FDA has actually taken some pretty significant steps to put food ingredients into the review process, which is a very good sign and something that we support.”

About the Author(s)

Cindy Hazen

Contributing writer

Cindy Hazen has more than 25 years of experience developing seasonings, dry blends, beverages and more. Today, when not writing or consulting, she expands her knowledge of food safety as a food safety officer for a Memphis-based produce distributor.

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