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From electric blue frosted cupcakes to chartreuse sports drinks, fake food dyes have painted our plates since childhood with colors not found in nature. A state assembly bill garnering much attention aims to change that.

The California Assembly Bill 2316 (A.B. 2316) focuses on the growing concern over artificial food dyes, which aims to ban six food dyes — Red Dye No. 3, Yellow Dye No. 5, Yellow Dye No. 6, Blue Dye No. 1, Blue Dye No. 2 and Green Dye No. 3 — from foods served in schools. It’s sparked significant discussion. Similar legislative efforts are emerging in various states, targeting harmful chemicals and additives. Numerous studies have raised concerns about the adverse health effects of artificial food dyes, particularly in children. These dyes have been associated with behavioral issues like ADHD, hyperactivity, allergic reactions and even potential carcinogenic effects. For example, studies have linked Red Dye No. 3 to cancer in animal tests, prompting calls for a precautionary approach.

This effort to further initiatives addressing safety and health concerns of our food supply and the rainbow-tinted realm of artificial food colors comes from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which represents one of the most significant changes to food safety laws in the United States in over 70 years, shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

FSMA’s core objective is the prevention of foodborne illnesses. By mandating proactive measures, such as hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls, these updates strive to reduce the incidence of contamination at all points in the supply chain. Enhanced traceability requirements under FSMA help quickly identify the sources of contamination, allowing for faster, more effective recalls and minimizing public health risks. The new laboratory accreditation rule ensures that food testing is performed by qualified, accredited entities, enhancing the credibility and reliability of food safety data and compliance. The New Era of Smarter Food Safety emphasizes modernizing the food safety system using cutting-edge technology, improving data collection and providing a more agile response to food safety issues.

“The ultimate goal is item level traceability,” said Frank Yiannas, former Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response, and was the key architect of FSMA while serving at the FDA. “We could, in the future, capture information about nutritional content, allergens as a label declaration, carbon footprint of an item and so much more.”

As registered dietitians and health and wellness professionals, your role extends beyond advising on nutrition and health and being able to explain to your shoppers what this California bill proposes:

Health concerns: The bill emphasizes the precautionary principle. Despite being approved in small quantities by bodies like the FDA, studies suggest that eliminating these dyes, especially from children’s diets, could reduce risks of adverse health effects.

Educational settings: The focus on schools underlines the commitment to safeguarding children, a vulnerable demographic, during their formative years.

Alternative ingredients: The bill encourages using natural colorants and additives, promoting safer and potentially more nutritious options.

FAQs

1. Why are food dyes being targeted? Studies have linked artificial food dyes to various health issues, including behavioral problems in children, such as ADHD. Long-term exposure to certain dyes has also been associated with cancer risks. Although the scientific community continues to study these links, enough evidence exists to warrant caution and legislative action.

2. Aren’t these dyes approved by the FDA? Yes, these dyes are currently approved by the FDA. However, approval often relies on data from older studies and recent research has introduced new concerns. The precautionary approach adopted by A.B. 2316 prioritizes the health of children amidst evolving scientific understanding.

3. How will schools adapt to these changes? Schools will transition to using safer, natural alternatives. This change may involve initial logistical and financial adjustments, but the long-term health benefits for children justify the effort. Various organizations offer support and resources to aid in this transition.

4. What can health and wellness professionals do to support this initiative? Dietitians and health and wellness professionals can advocate for the bill by educating parents, school administrators and policymakers about the dangers of artificial dyes and the benefits of natural alternatives. Providing practical advice and examples of safe food substitutions can also facilitate smoother transitions.

A.B. 2316 is part of a broader movement to revamp food safety. Several states including New York, Washington, Missouri and Illinois, have introduced bills to ban additional harmful chemicals and additives (e.g., preservatives like BHA and BHT, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and various endocrine disruptors). This legislative trend underscores a growing awareness about the cumulative effects of synthetic chemicals in our food supply.

What shoppers need to know

Children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of chemicals due to their developing bodies and higher food intake relative to body weight. Reducing their exposure to harmful additives can prevent potential health issues, improve behavior and enhance academic performance.

Legislation like A.B. 2316 pressures the food industry to be more transparent about their ingredients. This transparency can lead to the broader inclusion of cleaner, safer ingredients, benefiting all consumers and raising industry standards.

Many artificial additives have little to no nutritional value and can displace more nutritious ingredients in foods. Banning harmful additives can incentivize the reformulation of products to be healthier overall, increasing the consumption of whole foods and nutrients critical for development.

As advocates for health, dietitians and health and wellness professionals must communicate the rationale and benefits of these legislative measures to various stakeholders. Here’s a few ideas:

1. Educate parents and guardians

  • Organize workshops or send newsletters that explain the health risks associated with specific food dyes and additives.
  • Provide practical advice on reading food labels and choosing safer alternatives.

2. Collaborate with schools

  • Offer assistance in menu planning and ingredient selection to comply with new regulations to those schools and other organizations that do not have on-staff dietitians.
  • Partner with schools to run awareness campaigns and in class demos about the benefits of natural food ingredients.

3. Engage with policy makers

  • Provide expert testimony and advocate in your state for stronger food safety regulations based on scientific evidence.
  • Rally your cohorts and professional associations to support and disseminate information about these legislative efforts.

4. Public outreach

  • Write articles, participate in media interviews and use social media platforms to raise public awareness about the health implications of food dyes and additives in a science-based fair voice that shares the facts and refrains from hyperbole.
  • Engage in community programs to educate the broader public on the importance of safer food options.

A.B. 2316 and similar legislative efforts represent meaningful steps toward ensuring the safety and health of our food supply. As registered dietitians and health and wellness professionals, you have a pivotal role in educating and guiding various stakeholders: everyone from your C-suite, buyers and merchandisers to your shoppers through these changes. By leveraging your expertise and communication channels, you can support the successful implementation of these measures, ultimately fostering a healthier future for our communities, and especially our children.

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