Illinois Officials Look to ‘Knock the Dominoes Down’ and Ban Some Additives, Dye Used in Ultra-Processed Foods

(Caio / Pexels)(Caio / Pexels)

State Sen. Willie Preston has a goal: To ensure that when Illinois residents go to the grocery store, they can be confident they’re not buying food “laced with poison.”

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But that description doesn’t sit well with Illinois manufacturers who say the ingredients are safe.

Preston, a Chicago Democrat, is the sponsor of a proposal (SB2637) that would ban a handful of common additives in food made and sold in Illinois starting in 2027.

California last year became the first state to ban the substances – brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye 3 – that are common in mass-produced and ultra-processed cereals, candies, salad dressings and sodas.

Preston said he plans to go further, and add titanium dioxide to Illinois’ list, while also calling for studies to examine the risks of BHA and BHT.

“I don’t think a single one of us in this room would want to be serving their child a bowl of cereal that could also cause their cancer,” Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Downers Grove, the measure’s House sponsor, said at a press conference unveiling the legislation on Tuesday.

The proposal calls for imposing civil fines of $5,000 for a first violation and up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation, enforceable by the Illinois Attorney General or county state’s attorney where the violation occurred.

The lawmakers brought an expert to back their claims: Dr. Payal Adhikari, a pediatrician who’s a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics at Northwestern’s Children’s Practice.

Like Preston and Stava-Murray, Adhikari is a parent, and said she’s concerned about the impact the additives have on children, whose “tiny bodies,” brains and “little organs” are still developing.

“Food is our lifeline and what we eat becomes our body,” she said.

Adhikari said researchers don’t know what’s causing the increases in childhood autism, obesity and ADHD, but they do know that certain chemicals are “linked to adverse reactions” in youth.

Companies know how to make products without the targeted substances, said Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, as he held up a bag of European-manufactured Skittles that don’t contain them.

Giannoulias said there’s “zero difference in taste.”

Such preservatives and dyes are already prohibited in countries like Japan and Canada and members of the European Union.

“It does not ban any products,” he said.  “It does not take food off shelves. It will, however, encourage food manufactures to update recipes using safer alternative ingredients that are already widely available.”

Giannoulias, a father of three (with another on the way) who is believed to have higher political ambitions, said he’s helping to lead the effort to protect the “next generation.”

He said it’s within his purview as secretary of state because that office oversees Illinois’ organ donor registry, and there are “too many chronically sick individuals and not enough healthy organs.”

He said the measure will go a long way toward protecting Illinois residents from “dangerous” synthetics until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration establishes national standards.

If Illinois adopts a measure on the heels of California, two of the nation’s largest states will have taken that step.

“It will knock the dominoes down and these ingredients will be gone forever,” Giannoulias said.         

But Illinois food companies said if the products and substances were unsafe, the FDA would have outlawed them.

For the state to take that step would create a confusing patchwork, said the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association CEO Mark Denzler, and damage one of Illinois’ largest sectors in the process.

The trade association said food manufacturing makes up the largest segment of “Illinois’ manufacturing economy, generating more than $135 billion in economic impact each year.”

Denzler said for Illinois to take this step “would set a dangerous precedent by usurping the role of scientists and experts at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which reviews and approves food additives to ensure they are safe.”

The national trade group representing candy makers echoed the IMA’s critique, and said the move would impact shoppers’ wallets. 

It “will food costs, undermine consumer confidence, and create confusion around food safety. We should be relying on the scientific rigor of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives,” said the National Confectioners Association’s Christopher Gindlesperger. 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

Note: This story was updated Jan. 25, 2023, with comments from the National Confectioners Association.

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