EUROPE – European Union member states have unanimously agreed to ban a widely used coloring additive for food, known as the artificial coloring E171 on labels, after finding that its carcinogenic effects cannot be ruled out.
Titanium dioxide, or E171 – used to whiten and brighten products like cake icing, sweets, white sauces, medicine and cosmetics – was found to contain titanium dioxide nanoparticles. The particles have the potential to cause DNA damage, according to research conducted by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA).
The EFSA’s conclusion, based on thousands of new studies, found that genotoxicity, which is the ability of a chemical substance to damage DNA, could not be ruled out and that a “safe level for daily intake of the food additive could not be established.”
Following research that suggested titanium dioxide could cause pre-cancerous lesions in lab rats, France banned its use in food last year. The ban will go into effect in early 2022 if no further objections are raised by member states or the European Parliament by the end of the year, according to a statement from the EU commission.
Fine ingredients in baking, soups, broths, savory sandwich spreads, and sauces consumed by infants and toddlers are the main food categories contributing to dietary exposure to E171. Nuts that have been processed are also said to be “a major contributing food category for adults and the elderly.”
The green light for the ban is “the final nail in the coffin of titanium dioxide as a food additive,” said Camille Perrin, a representative of the European Consumers Organization (BEUC).
“In most European countries, E171 had already largely disappeared from the composition of food products, but it was still found in some chewing gums, sweets and cake decorations,” she said.
Titanium dioxide in South Africa
Meanwhile, South Africa will not ban titanium dioxide just yet. South Africa’s National Department of Health has stated that E171 does not pose a health risk for consumers and its use will not be banned in South Africa, for now.
Department of Health (DoH) said its use will continue following an evaluation by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), made up by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
After its evaluation, the JECFA gave titanium dioxide an acceptable daily intake of “not limited” or “not specified.” The DoH’s spokesperson, Foster Mohale, explained that a “not specified” daily intake is normally assigned to food additives with “very low toxicity.”
He added that titanium dioxide is allowed for use in South African food products, according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Nonetheless, its use will be reconsidered if the JECFA has re-evaluated its safety and new evidence becomes available.