In the United States, food producers have legal permission to use titanium dioxide, a chemical that has been the subject of much debate. It is a white pigment used to give products like Skittles their vivid colors. There are those who worry about its potential dangers and think it should be outlawed.
Because of studies linking titanium dioxide to cancer in rats, its use has come under scrutiny in recent years. The European Union has thus decided to prohibit the use of the compound in foodstuffs throughout the bloc.
As a result of this evidence and the recent lawsuit filed against Mars Inc., the maker of Skittles, some are wondering if titanium dioxide should also be banned in the United States.
The FDA has taken no action thus far, but that could change in the future. Fans of the colorful candy are left wondering if it is safe and if any rules have been put in place to regulate it. Learn more about titanium dioxide and the Skittles lawsuit here.
What Exactly Is The Skittles Case About?
Jenile Thames, a resident of California, is leading a class action lawsuit against the Mars Corporation over her concerns that the increased levels of titanium dioxide (TiO2) in Skittles pose a health risk.
The lawsuit claims that titanium dioxide, an ingredient in Skittles made in the United States, has been removed from the recipe in several European countries and is banned in others.
The European Union has banned the use of titanium dioxide in food products, lending credence to the claims that the ‘Taste the Rainbow’ candy is unsafe, a known toxin, and poses a significant health risk to unsuspecting consumers.
Titanium dioxide, the plaintiffs claim in their lawsuit, can enter cells, circulate throughout the body, and cross biological membranes.
While there are no laws against using titanium dioxide in food, Mars’ continued use of the ingredient in US-market Skittles runs counter to the company’s stated intentions from 2006. Over a period of 5 years, it planned to completely remove all artificial coloring from its offerings. Although Mars did not specifically name titanium dioxide in its initial commitment, the company later confirmed that it would be phased out of its products by 2021 along with several other ingredients after being contacted by the Center for Food Safety in 2016.
The California lawsuit demands that Mars take responsibility for the ingredients it uses, but the company has not yet removed titanium dioxide from Skittles in the United States. According to Thames, she would not have bought Skittles if she had known what was in them, so she is suing for damages on the grounds of fraud and other violations of consumer protection laws.
What Is Titanium Dioxide?
Titanium dioxide, also known as E171, is a common ingredient used as a coloring agent.
Sunscreen, cosmetics, paint, plastics, and even food all contain this “white solid inorganic substance,” as described by the American Chemistry Council.
The FDA of the United States has determined that titanium dioxide “may be safely used for coloring foods generally,” but only with certain limitations. For instance, it must be less than 1% of the total food weight.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom made the decision in March to not ban titanium dioxide as an additive in foods, contrary to the EU’s stance.
Concerns about genotoxicity, or the chemical’s potential to damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer, were raised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). As of August 7th, not only will the EU ban the ingredient, but the Northern Ireland protocol will also make it illegal to use in that region.
Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are conducting a risk assessment of titanium dioxide, which is expected to be completed in early 2023, reports Food Safety News.
When Compared To American Skittles, How Do The British One’s Stack Up?
Skittles contain sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and “less than 2 percent of citric acid, tapioca dextrin, modified corn starch, natural and artificial flavors, colors (red 40 lakes, yellow 5 lake, blue 2 lakes, yellow 6 lakes, titanium dioxide, blue 1 lake, yellow 6, red 40, yellow 5, and yellow 6), sodium citrate, and carnauba wax,” according to the US Skittles website.
In the UK, however, the ingredients list looks like this: “Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Palm Fat, Acids Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Flavourings, Modified Starch, Colors E162, E163, E170, E160a, E100, E132, E133, Acidity Regulator Trisodium Citrate, Glazing Agent Carnauba Wax.”
The FDA has voiced its concern that this additive may cause cancer by damaging DNA. The agency has concluded that it cannot establish a safe level of titanium dioxide in food, but that more research is still needed.
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