A US citizen is suing the confectionery company Mars about their continued use of a potentially toxic nanoparticle as an ingredient in Skittles.
So claims the class action lawsuit filed in California last week by Jenile Thames and others Mars Failed to adequately warn customers about the chemical titanium dioxide, which is “unfit for human consumption” and therefore committed injunctive relief fraud.
Mars says Skittles are made in accordance with FDA regulations, which allow the use of titanium dioxide at less than one percent of the food’s dry weight, and that the company did nothing wrong.
Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is a white colorant commonly used in confectionery, baked goods, cake decorations, candles, toothpaste, cosmetics, paint and paper.
Since March this year, titanium dioxide has been banned as a food additive in Europe due to concerns about genotoxicity (damage to DNA that can cause cancer) and uncertainty about how much is safe to consume. About half of titanium dioxide particles fall into the nano range (less than 100 nanometers wide).
2016, Mars issued a statement saying it would phase out the use of artificial colors over a five-year period, later clarifying that this included titanium dioxide.
The Washington Post reports that the lawsuit alleges so Mars “broke his own promise to consumers” because “more than six years later, the defendant continues to sell the products [titanium dioxide] without the knowledge of reasonable consumers who buy the products”.
That’s what the lawsuit claims Mars failed to make consumers aware of the risks of consuming a candy containing titanium dioxide.
“Defendant relies on the ingredient list provided in tiny type on the back of the products, which is made even more difficult to read by the lack of color contrast between the type and the packaging,” the lawsuit reads.
Other colorful candy brands like Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish and Nerds do not contain titanium dioxide, the lawsuit says.
European food manufacturers have until August to stop using this chemical. The European decision was based on an analysis of thousands of studies in mice and rats compiled by the European Food Safety Authority, which suggest that titanium dioxide passes mostly directly through the body, but small amounts of the particle are absorbed.
Because the chemical could accumulate in the body over time, the European Food Safety Authority could not rule out genotoxic effects.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency has decided not to ban titanium dioxide in food after reviewing the European decision and finding that the studies cited had too many limitations and uncertainties to support the conclusions drawn.
The UK agency said the wording of the Europeans’ conclusion was “unhelpful” in risk communication and could create unnecessary public concern, but said better data was needed for a more accurate assessment.
The Australian Food Safety Authority is still investigating the issue.
Conclusions from a mouse study linking titanium dioxide to cancer have already been rejected by the Australian Food Safety Agency due to flaws in the study’s design, but the agency is planning a wider review.