Oct. 30, 2023

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, the air is crisp, football is on the television and the kids are anxiously awaiting that night when they don the attire of a favorite superhero or spooky character or whatever their creative hearts desire. As a parent, it also seems like that time of year to be bombarded with warnings about the candy my kids will inevitably acquire through the many events surrounding this popular holiday. Inspect for razor blades, needles, drugs, poisons. If it’s homemade throw it away. Examine the wrappers for pinholes or tears. The list goes on despite so few incidents being reported over the years. I am certainly not advocating for parents to let up. Be diligent. Check those wrappers and enjoy a few pieces of chocolate as a reward for the hard work of being a parent. And while you’re at it, check out the ingredients of those candies. Take an extra piece of chocolate for yourself, because this is no easy task.

As a mom of three children, ages 12, 10 and 7, often times in our household convenience is king. Two working parents, a variety of sports and other activities, a mom who travels for work…I will admit I don’t have time to monitor every single thing my kids consume. When they were babies, I tried to do everything I could to make sure they were properly nourished. I breastfed, bought organic for the baby food I made at home, and eventually gave way to their picky nature and gravitated toward foods I didn’t have to fight them to eat. Macaroni and cheese, nuggets, a variety of animal shaped cookies and crackers that spent years in the crevices of the backseat of my car. It was what I once heard a nutritionist refer to as the “beige diet.

As my 40s crept up on me, I tried to become a more conscientious consumer myself, seeking out natural options when I could and when I couldn’t at least attempting to read the labels to avoid the ingredients we all know are bad. High fructose corn syrup, added sugars and the like. Then I started reading the labels on the foods and snacks my kids were eating, much to their annoyance. What I first realized is that I should have paid closer attention in chemistry class because I had no idea what most of these ingredients were, let alone be able to pronounce them with any sort of accuracy. So I did what we all do when curiosity gets the best of us and I Googled it. And then I Googled some more. When the internet rabbit hole I went down wasn’t enough for me, I began reaching out to different doctors, nutritionists, health experts, anyone who would talk to me about all of these artificial ingredients my kids were consuming. I was stunned, angry, disappointed, confused, flabbergasted all at the same time. I was feeding my kids poison. For a while, I was convinced I had completely failed as a parent to protect my kids from this stuff. I’m not one to sit around and sulk though, and I happen to be in a position where I can literally effect change, so I decided to do something about all of this.

I’ll get to my legislative proposal in a moment, but first let’s look at some of these questionable ingredients and the risks they pose to our health. I will pick on Red dye no. 3 because it’s an easy target. Back in the 1980s, when I was doing my own trick or treating, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found evidence that Red dye no. 3 caused cancer in lab animals. In 1990, the FDA actually banned this substance from being used in cosmetics and skincare products and said a separate regulation would be issued for its use in food. Even though my 44-year-old brain would love to believe that 1990 was a hot second ago, it’s been 33 years and the FDA says it just hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Aside from cancer, Red dye no. 3 has been linked to hyperactivity in children as well as neurological issues, yet it is found in over 3,000 products on America’s shelves including many popular breakfast cereals and even children’s cough syrup. Many countries and the EU have banned its use over the years and some manufacturers in the U.S. have altered their recipes to remove Red dye no. 3 from their products, but its use is still prevalent because it’s what gives those bright colors to so many treats kids find irresistible.

Potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, propylparaben are just a few more. These substances, along with Red dye no. 3, were recently banned by the state of California and in order to give food manufacturers plenty of time to alter recipes, it won’t take effect until 2027. The measure passed with wide bipartisan support and is similar to the legislative proposal I am working on for the people of Pennsylvania. The naysayers of the California bill complained that this is really something that should be done by the FDA so that the standards are consistent throughout the U.S. Now there’s an idea. The federal government stepping up. I would love nothing more than the FDA to beat me to the punch. In the meantime, I will do everything I can to make our foods safe to eat and labels easy to read. As a legislator and a mom, it is my mission.

Representative Natalie Mihalek
40th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jordan Frei
RepMihalek.com / Facebook.com/RepMihalek