EFSA: white titanium dioxide dye is carcinogenic

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Titanium dioxide can have carcinogenic effects. The curtain falls on the controversial white food coloring after the latest toxicological assessment by EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, published on 6.5.21.

Titanium dioxide, the white evil

The additive titanium dioxide (E171) has been listed in scientific literature for many years as toxic to the immune system and reproduction. France has banned it from January 2020, and the European Parliament has come out in favor of it.

Despite so much evidence, the European Commission has continued to allow its use in food. Baked goods, confectionery, and supplements, as we have documented in our market surveys.

The new EFSA opinion

Squeezed between the positions of some more collective health-conscious member states and pressure from the Europarliament and European citizens, the EU executive finally instructed EFSA in March 2020 to revise its previous opinion from 2016, which had absolved the additive due to lack of data.

The new opinion on titanium dioxide takes on board all the evidence to date and concludes that the additive may also have genotoxic effects. In other words, it can damage DNA and have carcinogenic effects.

The risks of nanoparticles

The new scientific assessment of titanium dioxide screened thousands of scientific studies and for the first time included nanoparticle-related risks.

In fact, the additive E171 is half composed of nanometer-sized particles (i.e., less than 100 nanometers), which the researchers say accumulate in the body.

The accumulation in the body

We could not rule out concerns in terms of genotoxicity related to the ingestion of titanium dioxide particles. After ingestion, the absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low; however, they can accumulate in the human body‘, comments Maged Younes, chair of the EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Flavorings.

Stalls closed to escaped oxen

The genotoxic effect prevents the establishment of an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for the addition of titanium dioxide in foods. Therefore, the European Commission is preparing to call on member states to ban its food use.

On closer inspection, the presence of E171 in foods is now minimal, thanks to the long extra time allowed by the European Commission for industry to reformulate recipes. A ‘whitewashing‘ that does not erase the health risk to which the population has been subjected for years.

Consumer reaction

Today we have taken a big step toward better food safety for all European consumers and more sustainability in the food system .

EFSA’s opinion concluding that E171 can no longer be considered safe when used as a food additive is a notable victory for all consumers. We now rely on the European Commission to build on the scientific evidence, ensuring a total ban of the substance from the EU market‘, comments Floriana Cimmarusti, secretary general of SAFE, an association that authored an explanatory video on the risks of titanium dioxide.

The full text of the EFSA opinion is available at https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2021.6585.

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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".