Prop 65 Warning ⚠️ Labels: Not Something to Ignore

Updated April 2022

Example of a Prop 65 label on a food product.

I would like to clarify misunderstanding about prop 65. It is not a label to just disregard because it seems like it is everywhere. The warning is there to alert consumers if a product contains toxins that have been proven to be able to cause cancer, reproductive harm, birth defects, etc.

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It is NOT required on “everything”! The warning label is only required if a product is above the threshold for toxins deemed safe by the state of CA and sold in CA. But since many companies don’t want to print a separate label just for California, they place it on their products sold everywhere else too. Here is a product that I’ve never seen a prop 65 for: my affiliate link for walnuts that I buy:

SOMETIMES it is there “just in case,” but we shouldn’t assume that. Companies may put it there to avoid getting caught without one if they really do need it, but cancer warnings aren’t something they want to just slap on for fun, because they definitely dissuade some customers from purchasing.

If you’re ever unsure why the label is there you can try googling it or contact the company. Sometimes it really isn’t obvious; for example I saw it on a container of raw pistachios. The only ingredient listed was pistachios, BUT remember that things like pesticides and fungicides are invisible and are never listed on ingredients labels or packaging. Same for acrylimides, which are formed when things such as starches are baked at high heat. A quick google search brought this up It’s about how a fungicide applied to pistachios can meet the criteria for prop 65.

Remember that just because something is “everywhere,” or people say flippant things like “everything causes cancer” (not true), doesn’t make it ok. If you see the prop 65 warning you should definitely look into why it’s there. Also beware when a company says they are “prop 65 compliant.” That could just mean that they are above the limit and place the warning label on their products sold in California (but possibly not in other states).

The only instance where I ignore the prop 65 warning labels: The ones that specify it is because of Wood dust. Wood dust can be carcinogenic, but that only applies to extensive exposures, such as occupations that work constantly around wood dust without proper protection.

Be wary of the language that companies try to use when explaining heavy metals in their products, such as the “naturally occurring” phrase to get out of labeling requirements (a loophole of prop 65 is it isn’t needed for “naturally occurring” heavy metals). Keep in mind, lead in soil still isn’t naturally occurring (it’s from past use of leaded gas) and is still harmful!

Companies also sometimes state they are “Prop 65 compliant” leading consumers to think that means they are under the prop 65 limit. In fact, prop 65 doesn’t represent a mandatory limit that companies need to stay under; rather, it means if they are above a certain level, they must disclose a warning on the label. So by having a tiny warning label, that means they are “compliant” with prop 65 labeling requirements.

The absence of a prop 65 label does NOT automatically mean the product has low levels of heavy metals. There are other exemptions for the label, such as mail-order companies such as Thrive Market.

Prop 65 website with FAQ site that does a good job explaining the prop 65 labels and how they vary

I also talk about Prop 65 in many of my other blog posts, such as supplements. And in this post.

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