Why is Prop 65 on My Supplement Label?

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Have you ever seen a product with a label that says, “This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm?” Sounds ominous. Yet this warning has become ubiquitous in many markets, and the world of supplements is not immune.

You may have even seen this warning on some of our products here at Seeking Health. Instead of downplaying why some of our products have these labels, we wanted to delve into the history of Prop 65 as well as explain why these warnings exist.

Our primary focus at Seeking Health is education and helping you to optimize your nutrition via targeted supplementation. We also focus extensively on quality and transparency. We want you to understand the safety standards and testing that all of our products go through.

What Is Prop 65?

California Proposition 65 is also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. (1) It was enacted as a ballot initiative in November 1986. This proposition requires the Governor of California to publish and maintain a list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Products that contain levels higher than the allowable amount in California must be labeled with a warning to consumers who will purchase products in the state. Larger companies may create two versions of products: one sold in the state, and one anywhere else that does not include California’s required labeling.

The Prop 65 law has become the defining legislation when it comes to the potential risk for cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. But it’s important to note: a warning does not equal a guarantee. Prop 65 operates under the “no observable effect level” to determine how much of each chemical can be present in a daily serving without requiring a warning. So, they aren’t saying that if you consume the level in a labeled product that you will experience damages from the chemical presence, but rather, that if you consume this amount on a daily basis from multiple products that your risk could be increased.

How does California determine the “no observable effect” amount? This means that for any chemical on the Prop 65 list, the level is calculated by taking the amount of exposure that has been shown to not pose any harm to humans or laboratory animals and then dividing it by 1,000 to provide an additional margin of safety.

In the same way, the Prop 65 law also requires warnings about cancer-causing substances. The standard is the level of exposure that would result in no more than one excess case of cancer in 1 million individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifespan. Again, this is a significant margin of safety. So much so that the American Cancer Society and numerous scientific experts question California’s reasoning in adding items to the list.

The latest? Acrylamide, found in nearly everything cooked at a high temperature and also found in coffee, has been added to the list and yes, now coffee comes with a Prop 65 warning if you’re in California. California’s reasoning seems to be that anything can kill you, and the scientific community is pretty over it. (2)

Lawsuits are the name of the game, and in the case of coffee, a law firm sued the state for not properly warning everyone that acrylamide can kill you. (3) However, the claims are based on an animal study done in rats, and experts say that humans could only barely touch on eating enough to cause a tumor in a mouse. (4)

If you live in California, chances are you see so many Prop 65 warnings that you tune them out. As they continue to make headlines, most consumers outside of the state question whether or not they’re really warranted. California’s definitions of “no observable effect” and “no significant risk” are so conservative. While low thresholds for exposure might be considered a good thing, are actual problematic compound warnings getting lost in the shuffle of hoopla over compounds found in nearly every food?

As you can see, Prop 65 is a long-standing law that is far-reaching and aims to do a good thing. But it has gotten out of hand in many areas and now seems to be a game of who can discover the newest compound to sue companies over. Perhaps California would do better to remind people that moderation is key? Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of risky things on this planet—even the air that we breathe can kill if it’s polluted or contaminated—but the state doesn’t go labeling that with warnings. Yet.

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Why Don’t All Supplements Have Prop 65 Warnings?

There are many reasons why most supplements don’t have Prop 65 warnings on their product labels. Here are the primary reasons that some of ours do:

1. Active Nutrients At Effective Doses

Here at Seeking Health, our formulations are full of active nutrients and we don’t base our nutrient doses on staying under the Prop 65 warning limit. Our formulations have been designed to be effective and bioavailable. This means that our supplements are some of the most potent on the market, and have higher doses of crucial nutrients.

Some supplement companies will purposefully reduce the nutrient content in certain areas so that they can avoid labeling their products with a Prop 65 warning, even if this makes their product less effective. We would rather cooperate with California’s extremely conservative labeling and provide a product with optimized dosing and benefits than sacrifice quality.

Minerals like magnesium, calcium, or trace minerals are typically a primary trigger for Prop 65 labeling on supplements. Many of our products contain specifically formulated mineral combinations to work synergistically in the body to bring balance and support good health.

The reason that minerals are targeted for Prop 65 labeling is the potential for lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury contamination. However, we rigorously test our products with reputable third parties to ensure that they contain levels that the government and other organizations have deemed safe. Certificates of Analysis are available upon request for any Seeking Health product.

2. Third-Party Testing & Transparency

According to Consumer Lab, the reason that many supplements don’t contain Prop 65 warnings is that they don’t get their final product tested for lead or cadmium, yet many exceed California’s allowable amounts. (5)

The culprits for many companies are plant-based supplements or those that contain minerals. At Seeking Health we believe that you should know exactly what you’re taking, so we third-party test all of our products for purity. We also ensure that our labels read accurately to give consumers every chance to be informed about what they’re consuming. Our founder, Dr. Ben Lynch, believes very strongly in the nutrient ratios and amounts that he has chosen for each formulation. That’s why he decided it’s better to leave them as they are, even with the requirement for a Prop 65 warning, than degrade the product and make it less effective.

Some companies knowingly exceed Prop 65 limits, but choose not to disclose it if they sell throughout the United States and the world, assuming the risk of being found out is low. Other companies create special California-only products and label them differently, even though the product itself does not change. While we sell to the rest of the United States and the world, we believe that abiding by the rules of California—even if we don’t agree that our product will cause harm—is the best way to exhibit our brand transparency to our customers.

3. Protein & Multivitamins

While not every protein powder or multivitamin on the shelves has a Prop 65 warning, there’s a good chance that many of them should. Protein powders are often plant-based, a common trigger for lead content. Given the usual serving size of protein powders, many are likely violating the Prop 65 warning. Multivitamins or other mineral supplements, in the same way, could largely violate Prop 65.

If a product can be consumed for nutrient benefits, chances are that Prop 65 could have something to say about it. Supplements are far from the only thing to fall into this category. Not only has coffee been targeted, but also cheese, bottled water, seafood, vinegar, candy, potato products, and even grilled meats. While we don’t think candy is “healthy,” do all of those foods deserve a Prop 65 label?

Are Metals Really That Dangerous?

When Prop 65 was first introduced in 1987, there were about 85 chemicals and contaminants on the list. Now, there are more than 700 compounds which companies must warn consumers about. There are national safety standards set for chemicals and substances, yet California takes matters into its own hands and severely limits these substances even more.

Prop 65 intends to warn consumers about what could potentially cause them harm, but the warning label reads more like a declaration that the product has been proven to cause harm. In the case of many chemicals on the Prop 65 list, there is no human research supporting the concern and even animal studies could be questionable.

While there are documented risks of heavy metal contamination from lead and cadmium, the allowable amounts in California’s Prop 65 are dramatically lower than what has been deemed safe elsewhere.

Maximum Tolerable Intake Levels of Lead and Cadmium (6, 7, 8, 9)

  Prop 65
(California)
Environmental Protection Agency United States FDA
Lead 0.5 mcg/day 28.5 mcg/day from drinking water 12.5 mcg/day adults
Cadmium 4.1 mcg/day 68 mcg per day in food (for 150 lb adult) 9.5 mcg/day for a drinking water 5 mcg per bottle of water (1 liter) 9.4 mcg/day in drinking water

As you can see, California’s standards for lead and cadmium are significantly lower than anyone else’s. All Seeking Health products meet or exceed national safety requirements. If a Seeking Health product contains the Prop 65 warning, chances are it exceeds California’s allowable daily intake of cadmium (<4.1 mcg per day) or lead (<0.5 mcg per day).

A huge misconception by some consumers is that Prop 65 warnings exist on products where harmful compounds have been added by companies. If you’re scrutinizing our “other ingredients” label to see if we add lead or cadmium to our products, we do not. These heavy metals are found in minerals that occur naturally in the soil where they are taken up into plants, much like the seafood industry doesn’t add mercury to its products—fish can be higher in mercury content because of the water they live in.

Heavy metals are everywhere, and while they’re never “good,” they are ubiquitous on our planet. Yet it doesn’t mean that once a heavy metal enters your body, it’s there forever. After exposure, your body’s ability to get rid of them depends largely on the presence of antioxidants like glutathione, tocopherols, and ascorbate—many of which you’ll also see in our supplements.* (10)

Another misconception is that only non-organic foods or supplements are contaminated and that organic versions are “safe.” This is not the case since organic foods are also grown in the same soil that can add heavy metals.

Are Seeking Health Products Safe?

Prop 65 intends to provide consumers with the information needed to make informed decisions. However, Prop 65 warnings don’t equate product testing that has proven a product to be unsafe for consumption.

Safety of products is determined by numerous, individual factors that can’t be addressed from a single piece of legislation or a warning label. They include:

  • Dose of the product
  • Duration of intake
  • Type of contact
  • Other chemicals exposed to at the same time, and their dose/duration/type of contact
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Sex
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Health condition

And so on. What can be extremely misleading about California’s Prop 65 warning label is that people assume each product has the same effect on everyone. But the amount of individual products containing lead, for example, that are consumed on a daily basis will dramatically differ from one person to the next based on eating habits, location, and so on.

Seeking Health products are rigorously tested for safety and purity. The care that we give to our formulations to ensure nutrient synergy, bioavailability, and active amounts is also given to our manufacturing processes and safety protocols. We use our formulations with our own families and on ourselves, so we aren’t creating a product that is knowingly harmful and sending it out into the world just to make money.

In fact, we believe so strongly in our mission and vision, as well as our product safety, that we provide Certificates of Analysis for any Seeking Health product whenever a consumer wants to see it. We have an education department that is on standby to answer customer questions and offer support.

For more information on California’s Prop 65 labeling and laws, you can check out the frequently asked questions answered by the Government of California.

What are your thoughts on California Prop 65?  Let us know in the comments below!


References

(1) http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=HSC&division=20.&title=&part=&chapter=6.6.&article

(2) https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/04/23/viewpoint-activist-legal-complex-californias-science-challenged-proposition-65-toxic-chemical-regulation-act-at-center-of-tort-shakedown-racket/

(3) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/food/wp/2018/02/02/coffee-in-california-may-soon-come-with-a-spoonful-of-cancer-warnings/?utm_term=.a8cd2ae901e4

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18624430

(5) https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/why-does-my-supplement-have-a-warning-label-from-the-state-of-california/cancer_warning_on_labels/

(6) https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/chemicals/lead-and-lead-compounds

(7) https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/chemicals/cadmium

(8) https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=34&po=8

(9) https://www.fda.gov/food/metals-and-your-food/lead-food-foodwares-and-dietary-supplements

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4691126/

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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