Skittles ingredient titanium dioxide Europe ban starts in August

From August 7th, food manufacturers in Europe will be banned from using titanium dioxide, a color additive. But that doesn’t mean the ingredient is toxic to humans.

On July 14, a lawsuit was filed against Mars, the company that makes Skittles, alleging the button-shaped candies contain toxic levels of titanium dioxide and are unfit for human consumption.

The lawsuit states that Jenile Thames, who is listed as one of the plaintiffs, bought a bag of Original Skittles at a California supermarket. According to the lawsuit, Thames “reviewed the products’ labeling, packaging and marketing materials and saw the false and misleading claims that the products, among other things, are safe for human consumption”.

“The candy is known for its colorful variety, which Mars has dubbed ‘rainbow’ for marketing purposes with great success. The color of the accused [Mars, Inc.] However, Rainbow is due to the use of TiO2 [titanium dioxide]’ the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that the chemical could cause adverse health effects such as organ damage and also alter a person’s DNA. The lawsuit used findings from the European Food Safety Authority as evidence the candy could be “toxic”. The lawsuit also alleges that the chemical is banned in Europe.

Since the lawsuit was filed, there have been news reports of the claims. For example, the British tabloid Daily Mail ran the headline: ‘Taste the brain damage! The Kegel maker is being sued over claims that candies contain the toxic dye titanium dioxide, which can damage vital organs and DNA.”

“Bowling banned in Europe” was also a trend on Google searches after the lawsuit was filed.

THE QUESTION

Is titanium dioxide, an ingredient in Skittles, banned in Europe?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, Europe has banned the use of titanium dioxide, a chemical used in Skittles, in food effective August 7. But that doesn’t mean the chemical has been proven to be toxic to humans. European studies found no conclusive evidence of toxicity, and the FDA in the US still allows titanium dioxide to be used in food at certain levels.

WHAT WE FOUND

Titanium dioxide is white in color and is used to improve the color and luster of certain foods.

In May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued an updated safety assessment on titanium dioxide. According to the guide, titanium dioxide, known in Europe as the chemical E171, can no longer be considered safe as a food additive because there isn’t enough data to establish the maximum amount someone should be taking on a daily basis.

Due to the lack of data on daily consumption, genotoxicity cannot be ruled out and the harmlessness of titanium dioxide cannot be confirmed, the European Commission stated. Genotoxicity is the ability of a substance or other toxic agent to damage DNA, the genetic material of cells, which can lead to cancer.

The European ban on the use of titanium dioxide in food begins on August 7, 2022. The European Commission is responsible for initiating and executing legislation within the European Union.

The UK disagreed with EFSA’s findings. The UK Committee on Toxicology noted that “the conclusion, based on the weak evidence available, is highly risky and could cause undue public concern”.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), titanium dioxide is safe to use in food or to color food in the United States as long as the amount does not exceed 1% of the total weight of the food.

In an email to VERIFY, the FDA noted that EFSA had not come to any definitive conclusions on the toxicity of titanium dioxide and the available studies on titanium dioxide did not reveal any safety concerns.

Some of the studies on titanium dioxide that EFSA reviewed to make its determination are also not relevant to human dietary exposure or ingestion of the color additive, the FDA said.

Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., director of Michigan State University’s Center for Ingredient Safety Research, said current studies of exposure to titanium dioxide have been limited to animal studies.

For example, in a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, rats were exposed to high concentrations of titanium dioxide daily for about two years with no side effects. Kaminski said more data is needed on how long-term exposure would or could harm people.

“Toxicity always depends on the amount you are exposed to. So water would be toxic. Salt would be toxic. And as toxicologists often say, the dose makes the poison,” said Kaminski.

“Just about anything can be toxic in a high enough concentration or dose. But again, we have to put this in a context that humans are normally exposed to… With titanium dioxide, we’re talking about one to two milligrams per kilogram per day, which is a very, very small amount,” he said.

When asked about the lawsuit, which cited the European ban as an example of why Skittles are venomous, a spokesman for Mars, Inc. told VERIFY in an email that they could not comment on ongoing litigation. The spokesman said the amount of titanium dioxide in Skittles meets FDA standards and regulations.

Mars, Inc. hasn’t shared with VERIFY how titanium dioxide is used in the company’s product, but Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, the medical director for the National Capital Poison Center, said it’s likely used as a primer to bring out the brightly colored hues to support the candy stick.

“If you think of Skittles for example, if you have Skittles that are breaking apart, they all have a colored coating on top, but then they have a white coating on the bottom, which most likely helps that colored coating stick to the actual product… probably the most contains the titanium dioxide in this white coating,” said Johnson-Arbor.

“If you think of things like cake icing or whitening toothpaste, or even whipped cream, coffee creamer, those are all things that have titanium dioxide in them, they’re all things that are white in color,” she added.

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Alley Einstein

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