Understanding California’s Proposition 65

If you live in California, you’re probably very familiar with the Proposition 65 warning (“This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm”). You’ve seen it on the products you buy, inside stores and restaurants, and in gas stations and parking lots. However, if you live outside the state, you might find it alarming to see this warning on your nutritional supplement label. What is this warning, and why is it so prevalent?

Proposition 65, Defined

Proposition 65, also known as The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Water Enforcement Act of 1986, requires that any product or facility that contains a chemical known to cause cancer or birth defects must include a warning when the chemical is present above a pre-determined “safe harbor” limit.

The Prop 65 Problem

While Prop 65 was well-intentioned, it has one major flaw: The safe harbor limit for harmful chemicals was set extremely low — many times lower than what has been determined to be safe by the Food and Drug Administration and other scientific bodies. As a result, numerous products must carry a warning even though they are perfectly harmless. For example, since lead is present in soil, and plants absorb it through their roots, anything grown in soil — including fruits, vegetables, coffee, chocolate, and botanicals — will contain a tiny amount of lead.

How Safe Harbor Limits Are Developed

Prop 65 sets the threshold for a birth defect warning by determining a safe level of daily exposure — in other words, a level at which researchers have observed no adverse effects in study populations — and then dividing it by 1,000. For lead, a safe level of daily exposure has been established to be 500 micrograms (mcg). This means that products which contain just 0.5 mcg of lead per serving (1/1000th of the safe level) must display a warning. For perspective, 0.5 mcg equals 1/150th the weight of an eyelash, one millionth the weight of a paperclip, and about one ten-millionth the amount of sugar in a teaspoon.

This measurement: Is equal to: Which is about:
1 microgram One millionth of a gram 1/75th the weight of an eyelash
1 milligram One thousandth of a gram The weight of 3 grains of salt
1 gram 1/28th of an ounce The weight of a paperclip
5 grams 5/28ths of an ounce The amount of sugar in one teaspoon
1 ounce 1/16th of a pound The weight of a slice of bread

 Putting Prop 65 in Perspective

Many foods and beverages we consume each day contain more lead and other chemicals than the safe harbor limit set by Prop 65. For example, a five-ounce glass of wine contains, on average, 1.13 mcg of lead — more than twice the amount that triggers a warning label.[1] Similarly:

  • A half-cup of shrimp contains 2.64 mcg of lead
  • A cup of clam chowder contains 1.68 mcg of lead
  • A cup of grape juice contains 1.44 mcg of lead
  • A small slice of chocolate cake (120 g) contains 1.32 mcg of lead
  • A half-cup fruit cocktail contains 1.32 mcg of lead
  • A half-cup of raisins contains 1.08 mcg of lead
  • A cup of macaroni salad contains .72 mcg of lead
  • A quarter-pound cheeseburger contains .61 mcg of lead

Properly labeled wine and food labels should carry the Prop 65 warning; however, many makers of wine and other foods either are not aware that their products contain enough lead or other listed chemicals to require a warning, or they do not sell their products in California.

The Bottom Line

Just because a product has a Proposition 65 warning does not mean it is unsafe. It only means the product contains a detectable amount of one of the 800+ listed chemicals. Because Yerba Prima’s products are all of botanical origin, we have placed Prop 65 warnings on most of our products to ensure complete compliance with the law. However, Yerba Prima products meet all federal safety standards and are completely safe for consumption.