This post originally appeared in the October 22, 2023 edition of Eater Today, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to share their tips for navigating the world’s most delicious destinations. Subscribe now.
The internet’s town criers have been ringing their gloomy bells on the empty streets of the website formerly known as Twitter. The message of the day is simple: The government has come at long last to take Skittles off the aisles, right alongside Peeps and good old-fashioned bacon. The issue here, though, is that the harbingers of grocery store candy doom got it wrong. Skittles live, dang it, stretching from supermarkets from the West Coast to the East like purple mountains majesty.
The confusion lies in California State Assembly Bill 418, just signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 7. The bill has California join the European Union as the first state to ban four food additives. Red dye 3, propylparaben, brominated vegetable oil, and potassium bromate have been linked to cancer by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Consumer Reports, and 21 other groups. Now, producers have until 2027 to remove the materials from products ranging from tortillas, trail mixes, and even those colorful microwave-until-they-blow-up Peeps.
Proponents of the bill say the four materials are nonessential in nearly 12,000 recipes for popular candies, cereals, and sodas. Opponents, namely the not-so-Willy Wonka-esque National Confectioners Association, maintain this decision undermines consumer confidence.
But this doesn’t mean Skittles are dead. Although an original draft of the bill included titanium dioxide as a fifth harmful food additive, which would’ve roped the rainbow medley into the mix, after a tremendous public outcry, lawmakers decided to kick titanium dioxide to the curb. Plus, whereas the neurotoxic correlations or endocrine and reproductive damage found in the four soon-to-be outlawed chemicals was considered significant to ban more urgently, not so for titanium dioxide. Michigan State University’s Center for Research on Ingredient Safety found that in small doses the property is safe to ingest, apply in sunscreen, you name it. Still, Consumer Reports’ director of food policy Brian Ronholm told outlet Cal Matters the legislation, even without the inclusion of titanium dioxide, is “groundbreaking” and passed with “strong bipartisan support.”
Indeed, legislating food materials in the United States has always been harried and, frankly, unethical. This goes back decades, back to when the country struck deals with private corporations to stimulate market growth. Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, a public relations consultant who came to be known as the “Father of Public Relations,” bartered on behalf of the Beech-Nut Packing Company, promoting meat and eggs in the 1920s through endorsements from public officials, celebrities, “experts,” and surveys; he also bartered for the United Fruit Company, promoting bananas at the cost of Guatemalan lives in the 1950s. The government isn’t coming for your anything; rather, the government is often imploring you to buy more of everything.
Admittedly, some experts say these specific bans don’t do much for consumer health. UC Davis food expert James Coughlin told Cal Matters that outlawing these chemicals is “unnecessary and unscientific.” But outside of California and the European Union, these four chemicals are also banned in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil. The Food and Drug Administration has signed off on these materials, but in April 2023, they placed the four under review for the first time in decades.
Importantly to candy lovers everywhere, though, Skittles will remain available until kingdom come. The internet’s town crier can hop off their soap box for now.