Armed with a research dossier suggesting titanium dioxide caused cancer, EU health officials decided last year they had no choice but to ban the common food additive.
California lawmakers proposed doing the same, giving rise to the Golden State’s misleadingly named “bowling ban” that was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week.
However, titanium dioxide (or E171) is added to Skittles in the US, as well as white chocolate and chewing gum. – was not included in the bill after being removed from the crosshairs last month.
California is therefore at odds with the EU.
But there’s still one place it aligns perfectly with: Britain. Well, England, Scotland and Wales, at least.
Titanium dioxide (E171) has been used for decades to whiten foods, make them more visually appealing, or restore color. Baked goods, sandwich spreads, soups, sauces, and salad dressings are among the foods in which it is found. California this week banned brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye number 3, all of which have long been banned in the country’s foods. United Kingdom
E171 has been used for decades to whiten foods, make them more visually appealing, or restore color. Foods it is found in include baked goods, sandwich spreads, soups, sauces, and salad dressings.
Heads of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who regularly investigate whether ingredients pose any health risks, concluded in a 2016 review that E171 was safe, although they noted more research was needed to fill gaps in the evidence. knowledge.
But in an updated assessment from May 2021, which took into account thousands of recently published studiesEFSA could not confirm that any level of E171 was safe to consume.
Concerns centered on genotoxicity: the concern that particles from the additive will accumulate in the body and damage DNA or chromosomes, increasing the risk of cancer.
In response, the European Commission, which ordered the investigation, ultimately banned the ingredient in February 2022. Food manufacturers were given six months to phase out its use.
It meant that, at the end of 2022, titanium dioxide was no longer allowed to be used as a food additive in EU member states, including Northern Ireland.
HoweverIt can still be used in medicines, paints, paper, plastic and cosmetic products.
In the UK, the Committee on Toxicity (COT), an independent scientific committee that advises the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department of Health, said the measure was not justified as the available evidence did not support the claims. EFSA conclusions.
In a separate verdict, the UK’s Committee on Mutagenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COM) said the EU measure was based on “weak evidence”, was “highly risk-averse” and could trigger”“unnecessary concern” among the public.
As a result, the additive is still found in foods sold in the UK, such as some cakes, chewing gum and mayonnaise.
However, the FSA told MailOnline that it is currently carrying out a risk analysis of the ingredient, which is expected to be complete in early 2024.
E171 can also be added to foods sold in California, whose standard applied to brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye number 3, which have long been banned in foods in the United Kingdom. United.
Dr Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior lecturer at Aston University in Birmingham, said the EU took a stronger stance on E171 than the UK after considering questionable evidence.
He said a study into whether the additive causes DNA damage (the mechanism by which it could cause cancer) suggested that the particles did not cause changes to DNA.
“Therefore, the basis on which it was banned has been further questioned,” Dr Mellor said.
“However, it should be noted that foods containing titanium oxide are less likely to be rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals and are more likely to be foods that we should eat less frequently if we want to stay healthy.”
Professor Oliver Jones, a chemist at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, told MailOnline that doubts over whether E171 is “really a question of dosage”.
He said: ‘Many things we are exposed to every day cause cancer, including sunlight and alcohol. This does not mean that we are going to get cancer from going outside or that we should ban alcoholic beverages.
“It’s clearly a question of how much sunlight and alcohol we are exposed to; one glass of wine a week is safer than 20 drinks a day, for example.”
Professor Jones, former director of food biosciences and technology, said it should be assessed whether the additive causes cancer “at the level we are exposed to”.
He said: “I don’t think the evidence is enough for titanium dioxide.” Many articles show no effects and those that do indicate a possible effect use quantities many, many times greater than what humans are exposed to.
“I would be more concerned about some of the potential substitutes for titanium dioxide that we don’t have a lot of toxicity data on.”
He noted that the EU has a “prove it is safe” perspective when assessing ingredients, while other watchdogs have a “prove it is harmful” perspective.
However, Professor Tom Sanders, a nutrition and dietetics expert at King’s College London, told MailOnline that “it would make sense” for the UK to be “in line with the EU on additives due to trade.