California Prop 65 Warning

Update for 8/16/2018 - After Coffee Brewhaha, CA Fears Cancer Warnings Have

"Gone Seriously Wrong"

According to some in CA, Prop 65 warnings have gone out of control, leading to over-labeling of items that are not dangerous enough to warrant that sort of label. The coffee industry has been fighting back against this labeling with some signs of success. Critics argue that the labeling should be saved for real threats. Link to Read the Full Article: by Beth Mole


 achtung-yellow.svg.png WARNING: All herbs and herbal products sold contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and /or birth defects or other reproductive harm. California's 1986 referendum Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, will significantly impact the sale of herbal remedies, both by importers, wholesalers, retailers and health care practitioners. Prop. 65 requires, among other things, that products sold in California containing heavy metals above the Prop. 65 specified "safe harbor" level must contain a warning label. All herbs and herbal products that we sell may contain chemicals listed under Proposition 65. However, the Prop. 65 levels for each heavy metal are set very low, at 1/1000 of the known harmful level for pregnant women. This standard is many times below the standards set by both the United States and Australian Pharmacopoeias, guidelines used in the manufacturing of drugs and therapeutic goods. It is not uncommon for herbs, whether or not they are from China, to contain heavy metals. It is believed that these elements are in the soil where they are grown.

It is important to remember that it is not illegal in California to sell products with heavy metals above the Prop. 65 levels, but it is illegal to sell them without a warning. The warning must read:

WARNING: This product contains chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm. 

The changes for the California Proposition 65 will take affect August 2018.  This required labeling requires the Prop 65 warning labels to provide on each and every product clearly and with reasonable warnings. The new warning label requirements for products include the following warnings: 

  • Must identify at least one chemical that is present in order for the Prop 65 warning label to be on the product.
  • The warning language requirement is different. Changed from "contains" chemical to "can expose you to".
  • The triangular yellow warning symbol is required for most warnings. 
  • For items sold on the Internet, the warning label must be provided for purchases on the Internet. 

If you live in California you see this sign posted in the doors of supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, and endless other places. Thousands of consumer products are affected by this law. For example, sand (silica), which is commonly found on spinach in the Supermarket, is a chemical known to cause cancer under Prop 65. Another example can be found in chocolate bars. A two-ounce bar of chocolate contains up to 43 micrograms of lead, whereas the typical herbal formula contains only around 3-15 micrograms. So why isn't there a Prop 65 warning label on chocolate or spinach? The food industry spent millions of dollars proving that the lead in produce or chocolate occurs naturally and therefore cannot be considered a contaminant. Unfortunately for herbal companies, few had the millions of dollars required in 1986 to prove that lead in supplements is naturally occurring.  Thus we see Prop 65 warning labels on herbal supplements but not on produce, chocolate bars, or even coffee which contains a great deal more lead.  This doesn't mean that produce or chocolate bars are unsafe; it is just to point out a discrepancy in standards for Prop 65 labeling. 

No (Clear) Distinction Between Substances 
Prop 65 doesn’t make a distinction between substances that are man-made (like paint, batteries, and exhaust) and those that are naturally found (like in soil and crops). For example, lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal found in natural products like produce. So organic cocoa powder, bentonite clay, or even collard greens would be in the same category as lead paint!  

For example, take a look at the naturally occurring lead counts in the foods below. 


Sadly it does not matter that it is the opinion of many experts that the dosage levels set by the Pharmacopoeias are sufficient to protect individuals. Proposition 65 is the law in California and must be complied with. Proposition 65 also allows private individuals and entities to act as enforcers of the proposition, and for them and their lawyers to reap significant economic gain if they are successful. As the California Attorney General has not yet taken industry wide action, there is now a group of  "bounty hunters" in California, some with with serious environmental concerns and many others just out for the money. Most people in the health food industry would prefer for the California Attorney General to initiate a industry wide enforcement, rather than allowing selected businesses to be sued by those who have an economic incentive to proceed. But this is lawful. A number of importers and wholesalers of herbal products have recently been sued for non-compliance with Proposition 65. It is likely that some of our products will contain Proposition 65 warning labels in the future as manufacturer's adapt to these rules. However, we feel that the products are safe. Interestingly enough, a company could sell the exact same products and not have the Prop. 65 warning if they operate outside of California. Proposition 65 is a California law. If you would like more information on Proposition 65 you can call the California Environmental Protection Agency (916) 445-6900. Information can also be found at their website: or




"Prop 65 News and Articles." Prop 65 News. Web. 03 June 2015

 Prop 65 website for more information: