If you’re a California resident or you’ve purchased supplements from California, by now you’ve probably seen the Prop 65 warning label that’s placed on thousands of products. These labels are infamous for their severe warnings and it’s only normal to be concerned when you see such warnings on something you are about to consume. However, the products forced to use these labels already meet or exceed current regulations to be sold legally. This leads to the question you are probably asking — if the warnings on the Prop 65 labels are true, how are these products still on the market? As with many California regulations, it’s hard to find a straightforward explanation. However, we’re going to do our best to break down Prop 65 for you and let you draw your own conclusion.
In 1986, environmental and public health activists persuaded California voters to approve the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act — more commonly known as Proposition 65 or Prop 65. Although the intentions behind Prop 65 were to improve public health, very little improvement has actually resulted. It’s questionable whether or not the burden placed on California businesses has been worth it. Prop 65 requires: The State of California to identify chemicals that could potentially cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. Each new chemical discovered is added to a list managed by the state. The list total is over 800 chemicals and counting. Businesses to warn consumers of any possible exposure to one of the chemicals on the list, despite the actual amount of ingredient or realistic risk of exposure. To accomplish this, businesses are required to post in-store signs and/or warning labels on specific products.
However, Prop 65 requires a warning label on any product containing a single chemical from their list, but does not require companies to disclose the actual chemical or amount of chemical present. Prop 65 sets a “Safe Harbor” exposure level for a lot of the listed chemicals and amounts less than the Safe Harbor level require no warning label. Yet, Safe Harbor levels are frequently around 1,000 times lower than levels set by the FDA, EPA and WHO. In fact, the Safe Harbor levels are so low for many common chemicals that they’re virtually impossible to not surpass. In most instances, the exposure levels determined by Prop 65 are lower than what occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, and even drinking water. For example, take a look at the naturally occurring lead counts in the foods below.
24x higher lead-count than the Prop 65 limit:
One of the interesting aspects of Prop 65 is how different it is from all of the other national standards set by organizations such as the FDA and EPA. Prop 65 is significantly more strict. Continuing with the example of lead, which is naturally occurring throughout the environment and notably in our soil, we see a stark contrast between Prop 65 and the national standards. According to the EPA, natural levels of lead in soil can range from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm. When you account for the amount of lead in the soil from man-made pollution, some areas contain up to 10,000 ppm. Granted, these are contaminated areas usually near factories. Even when grown in soil with lower lead content (500 ppm), vegetables such as spinach and radishes can contain enough lead to exceed 3 ppm. Other vegetables, such as beets and carrots, can have over 6 ppm. This is why it’s virtually impossible to manufacture natural herb products that don’t contain trace amounts of lead, especially for herbal roots. However, keeping those levels far below the national standards is definitely possible. The federal safety standard set by the FDA for lead in dietary supplements is a maximum 10 ppm. International standards vary, but typically are set around 5 ppm. The Prop 65 Safe Harbor maximum allowable dose level for lead is 0.5 micrograms per day, but the FDA daily limits are set at 75 micrograms for adults and 6 micrograms for children. The European Food Safety Authority estimates the average adult consumes around 50 micrograms per day, which is 100 times the Prop 65 limit. Any product in California that might cause someone to be exposed to more than 0.5 micrograms per day requires the Prop 65 warning label. However, most food and supplement products with the Prop 65 warning label are still well under the national limit and only contribute a fraction of the average person’s daily exposure to lead.