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State Senate advances bill to ban food additives linked to health problems

Sen. Willie Preston, D-Chicago, is pictured on the floor of the Illinois Senate last year. He advanced a measure through the Senate on bipartisan lines that would ban four widely used food additives.
Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki
Sen. Willie Preston, D-Chicago, is pictured on the floor of the Illinois Senate last year. He advanced a measure through the Senate on bipartisan lines that would ban four widely used food additives.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill Thursday that would ban four food additives that are found in common products including candy, soda and baked goods.

Senate Bill 2637, known as the Illinois Food Safety Act, passed on a 37-15 bipartisan vote and will head to the House for consideration. The banned chemicals would include brominated vegetable oil, red dye No. 3, propylparaben and potassium bromate.

Those additives are used in a wide variety of food products. Brominated vegetable oil is a stabilizer used to keep citrus flavoring in sodas from separating from the solution and floating to the top. Propylparaben and potassium bromate are used in baked goods as a preservative. Red dye 3 is a common food dye used in candy and other products.

“This legislation does not seek to ban any product or take away any of our favorite foods,” bill sponsor Sen. Willie Preston, D-Chicago, said at a news conference Wednesday. “This measure sets a precedent for consumer health and safety to encourage food manufacturers to update their recipes to use safer alternatives.”

Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed to revoke the authorization of brominated vegetable oil after a study found that the chemical affects the thyroid, creating negative health impacts. According to a study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit advocacy organization, red dye 3 may cause cancer in animals. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization, found potassium bromate to be possibly carcinogenic.

The bill had bipartisan support in the Senate with both Sen. Seth Lewis, R-Bartlett, and Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, voting for it.

“(Red dye 3) was banned by the FDA for use in makeup over 30 years ago. So, the FDA doesn't allow you to put it on your face for makeup. But yet kids are eating this in candy,” McClure said in the Senate Thursday. “That to me is outrageous. So, for that reason I am voting for this bill.”

Preston previously said he was considering adding titanium dioxide to the ban, but that plan was scrapped during negotiations. He said if additional research becomes available “we'll explore that option at that time.” In 2021 the European Food Safety Authority said it was concerned that titanium dioxide could alter people’s DNA.

Industry groups such as the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association have pushed back against the bill throughout the legislative process. In January, the IMA issued a statement in opposition of “this well-intentioned legislation,” claiming it would undermine the FDA and negatively impact Illinois’ economy as it would “create a confusing and costly patchwork of regulations.”

The National Confectioners Association issued a similar statement, saying the bill would “increase food costs, undermine consumer confidence, and create confusion around food safety.” The group also argued food regulation should “rely on the scientific rigor of the FDA.”

California passed a similar bill last year that will take effect in 2027 and the New York Senate is currently debating a similar bill. The food additives are already regulated or banned in parts of the European Union.

The Illinois bill was amended from an earlier version to grant retailers additional time to comply. The additives would be banned from manufacturing beginning January 1, 2027, with the sale, delivery, distribution, and holding of products containing the additives being banned beginning in 2028.

“We have given an extension to retailers, an extension for an extra year, for them to get in compliance,” Preston said. “We don't intend to fine people out of business at all.”

Violators are subject to fines up to $5,000 for their first offense and up to $10,000 for each subsequent offense.

Both Lewis and McClure, while voting for the bill, said they would like to see future legislation clarify how fines accrue and what constitutes a single violation of the law.

Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, said that as Illinois faces issues of food insecurity and food deserts, this bill is needed to ensure people’s safety.

“So, we know that lots of families who live in poor areas tend to go to convenience stores for their grocery stores,” she said at a news conference Wednesday. “We need those foods to be safe to consume, especially if they're eating them on a daily basis, or multiple times a day.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Cole is a graduate student reporter enrolled in the Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS.