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The Pros and Cons of Prop 65 Labels

Proposition 65 was a California initiative to protect public health, but research suggests that the labels may be superfluous when applied to American made supplements.

In a perfect world, there would be no need for laws. Laws, by their very nature, are annoying and constricting. But this planet is far from perfect, making laws a necessary evil that people must put with for their own protection. A law is a legal order that must be followed by the affected population; non-observance or outright violation has its corresponding penalty. But some laws are ambiguously phrased, and the vagueness allows for circumventing or even evading without technically violating its provisions.

What California Proposition 65 Is All About
Such is the case with California Proposition 65, now officially named the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, but still better known by its original name. It was approved by California voters in 1986 with the aim of protecting its citizens and the environment from the dangers posed by hazardous substances in consumer products. Enforcement of Proposition 65 required all businesses to include information of any and all chemicals in a product which are harmful and have exceeded the standard safety limit. Information may be done through a label on the container or posted in the vicinity where the business stands. Thus, when you buy a product, you'll see the warning label, “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Businesses have taken to posting the Proposition 65 warning in their vicinity, as can be seen at gasoline stations, medical facilities, housing for rent, parking garages and even in seemingly innocuous places like banks and retail stores.

The list of chemicals that are categorized as toxic is determined by authorized agencies, among them the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). Each year, the list is updated and the latest list includes about 903 chemicals.

What You May Not Know About California Proposition 65
This directive is not without its issues.

  • For one, putting the warning label on a product is not required if the amount of the identified hazardous chemical is below the danger level. But, without the government’s classification of the allowable level, it is the business’ responsibility to find out what the level is using acceptable scientific methods. This would mean additional expense and effort for the business owner.
  • Secondly, when a certain product has the warning sign, it may be because the manufacturer chose to put it because the chemical is actually present, even without verifying if it has exceeded the safe level or if it may even be zero. The business owner would rather include the warning rather than risk violating the law or spending effort and money to determine a chemical’s safety level.
  • Thirdly, it is not a violation of Prop 65 to post a warning, however unnecessary. These warning signs have become so commonplace that consumers don’t take notice anymore and it loses it purpose to educate and inform them.

Dietary Supplements and California Proposition 65
Food, vitamin and mineral supplements have not been spared from the issues that have cropped up. One supplement can contain several ingredients that are normal and useful in their safe levels but become toxic when multiplied. One ingredient that stands out in the issues of Proposition 65 is lead. Lead in its basic form is not knowingly added to food supplements but it can be found naturally in calcium carbonate. Calcium is one of the more popular mineral supplements that people take. It promotes the growth of healthy bones and teeth in all ages, prevents osteoporosis especially in women, and plays an important role in heart contraction. Pregnant women take calcium for themselves and for the baby they are carrying.

A chief source of calcium are oyster shells. These oysters contain lead, taken in from the environment, as with other lead sources. A study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September of 2000 revealed that more than half of the products examined had lead levels that were below the detection range of 0.25 ppm and the rest had lead content from 0.35 to 0.81 ppm, still well below the safe limit for lead. Further, calcium blocks lead absorption into the intestines and lessens the toxicity of lead.

Standard for lead limit in pharmaceutical products is 10 ppm, according to the US Pharmacopeia, and this figure has been used as the acceptable safe limit for herbal products and supplements as well. The director for the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon has set a total daily lead exposure to 0.5 mg as normal in a clean environment. The state of California has set the “no significant risk level” for lead at 0.5 mcg per day.

To make matters even better,  food supplements that are manufactured in the US were found not to be contaminated with lead. The researchers have attributed this finding to the following factors: the ingredients used did not contain lead, the manufacturing equipment is not contaminated with lead and the water used in the production process is clean and lead-free. The bottom line was simple: the US companies had more stringent processing methods to ensure public health and safety than even the government required.

All this information should put worries to rest. Unless a health agency of the government issues an advisory against a specific drug or supplement, the warning label on the bottle is probably not as serious as it sounds. This is not to dismiss the warning outright but rather to make an informed decision and weigh the pros and cons of taking a certain drug, and being better educated about Prop 65.

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