E171, France bans titanium dioxide

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The additive E171 is hazardous to health. Therefore, France has decided to ban its use in food from 2020. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) has been the subject of numerous scientific studies over the years. Research findings converge in attributing harmful human health effects to this additive, which has been found to be carcinogenic, as well as toxic to the reproductive system and causing damage to the intestinal system. While the European Commission sleeps and industry continues to use it.

E171, a suspect nanomaterial

E171 is a food additive composed of titanium dioxide (TiO2) particles, some (variable) of which are present in nanometer form (expressed in millionths of a millimeter, capable of crossing cell walls). This white pigment of mineral origin for decades has been widely added to foods with coloring and opacifying functions. Mostly in candies, marshmallows, chewing gum and other confectionery products, mainly for children. As well as in sauces, bakery and confectionery products, toothpastes (also often ingested by toddlers), medicines, cosmetics and sunscreens, and paints.

Despite repeated warnings of the scientific community, the European Commission (responsible for the authorization of food additives) has omitted decisions to exclude or limit their use. In 2016, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) declared that it was unable to establish an acceptable daily intake (ADI) threshold suitable to protect consumers, due to a lack of data.

New research in 2017 has turned the spotlight back on the additive. The French food safety agency (ANSES) published in ‘Scientific Report a study on the toxicity of titanium dioxide ingestion, which showed the distinct risk of carcinogenesis in the intestinal tract of rats. The work, along with three other new studies, was evaluated by Efsa, which moreover confirmed the 2016 opinion.

France resists. In early 2019, at the behest of the government, ANSES conducted a review of 25 new studies published since 2017 on titanium dioxide. Noting further (non-final) confirmation of the risks associated with ingesting the nanoscale additive, culminating in the 4/15/19 opinion in which the French agency recommended the elimination of TiO2 from food. An opinion recognized as sufficient by the executive to decide – just two days after its publication – to ban the use of the additive E171 in food from 2020.

E171, where it is found

The European Commission – following a script that completely disregards the precautionary principle-often delays or omits altogether the management of public health risks that emerge as a result of scientific assessments of the hazardousness of foods and food ingredients. What we have denounced in the recent cases of palm oil, bisphenol A and phthalates, and acrylamide is thus being repeated now for E171.

After years of warning scientific, the industry has gradually reduced the use of titanium dioxide. And yet, our market surveys have found its presence in various products, from candies to dietary supplements to treat intestinal disorders. A deadly paradox, given the gut toxicity attributed to the very additive under consideration. The only measure is to check its absence among the ingredients, where it is listed as E171, by its name ‘titanium dioxide’ or ‘titanium dioxide’ or as C.I. 77891, if used as a coloring agent in cosmetics.

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".