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Flamin' Hot Cheetos could soon be banned by California schools

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LA Post: Flamin' Hot Cheetos could soon be banned by California schools
March 14, 2024
Nahal Garakani - LA Post

California State Assembly introduced a controversial bill that could soon prohibit schools from serving snacks like Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Proposed by Democrat Assembly member Jesse Gabriel, Assembly Bill 2316, proposes to ban public schools from providing any foods containing certain harmful artificial dyes and additives.

Seven specific ingredients have been called out: The artificial dyes Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and the whitening agent titanium dioxide. These unhealthy additives are commonly found in packaged snacks that are marketing to appeal to kids. 

Advocacy groups have raised concerns about health impacts from heavy consumption of such chemical additives. And some studies have suggested links to behavioral issues in children.

Assembly member Gabriel said in announcing the bill, "California has a responsibility to protect our students from chemicals that harm children and that can interfere with their ability to learn."

But the ban is proving controversial. While supporters call it a needed health protection, critics argue it goes too far controlling legal ingredients and food choices.

Under existing California law, foods served in schools must meet certain nutritional criteria. Gabriel's bill would expand restrictions by prohibiting specific synthetic dyes and additives allowed by federal regulators.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affirms the approved additives are safe. But it admits there are limits to current risk data. Opponents argue a complete ban is premature without definitive proof of harm.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has long lobbied against titanium dioxide and artificial coloring in kids' foods, citing health risks seen in some studies.

A 2012 National Institutes of Health report found red dye No. 3 caused cancer in lab animals. Other dyes showed contamination with cancer-linked compounds in animal tests.

Additional research has associated dye consumption with hyperactivity in children. A 2021 California state assessment found they may impact behavior even in kids without diagnoses like ADHD.

Supporters say with natural color alternatives available, there's no need to take chances on children's health or learning. But some food companies argue chemical additives make shelf-stable, affordable options possible.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, said families struggling economically may rely on cheaper snacks and cereals using additives. They warn prohibiting such ingredients could limit access and raise costs.

If enacted, public health advocates hope the ban spurs companies to reformulate snacks with safer natural dyes. But the changes affect a small fraction of cafeteria offerings, suggesting minimal student impact.

An Environmental Working Group analysis found just 4% of school lunch and under 3% of a la carte foods contain the additives in question. While select chips, candies and drinks would need adjusting, most meals comply already.

California previously pioneered banning other additives, including Red Dye No. 3. Several states are now considering similar restrictions on dyes, though no others have implemented them yet.

The FDA asserts synthetic food colors do not cause hyperactivity or other behavioral issues. But some doctors argue federal oversight has lagged emerging science indicating risks, especially for children.

"The FDA has been asleep at the wheel," said Melanie Benesh of the Environmental Working Group. "California shouldn't have to introduce this bill. We need credible federal regulators taking aggressive action to ensure food chemical safety."

While the debate continues, parents hold mixed views on whether snack prohibitions improve student health or unduly restrict choice.

"I'm not sure an outright ban is the answer," said Dana Jones, mother of a high school athlete. "But I do try limiting artificial dyes at home since they seem to affect my son's focus. Giving schools more healthy snack options is a good thing."

Pediatrician Dr. Amanda Rhodes supports the move. "As doctors, we see increasing hyperactivity, weight gain and other issues exacerbated by junk food diets," she said. "Limiting chemical additives proven harmful in science just makes sense for developing kids. https://www.lapost.com/doritos-invents-app-to-quiet-crunching

The fate of California's bill remains uncertain. But it exemplifies growing public concern over food additives and mounting pressure for manufacturers to prioritize safety.

As the debate continues, parents can make their own choices seeking healthy alternatives. And engaging in discussions on nutrition, rather than buying restriction, may prove the most effective way to enact positive change.

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