EU U-turns on ‘unsafe’ common food additive linked with cancer risk


The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has deemed titanium dioxide, a widely used food additive, to be unsafe in its latest study, contradicting an earlier conclusion and paving the way for an EU-wide ban after a decade of debate.

In a new opinion, published on Thursday (6 May), EFSA found that concern for genotoxicity “could not be ruled out” and, consequently, a “safe level for daily intake of the food additive could not be established”.

Genotoxicity refers to the ability of a chemical substance to damage DNA, the genetic material of cells, which may then lead to carcinogenic effects.

After evaluating new evidence, EFSA’s experts therefore no longer consider titanium dioxide safe when used as a food additive.

Titanium dioxide (known as E171) is a common food additive which is used as a white food colourant. It has no nutritional or functional benefits in food.

E171 is composed of a mix of titanium dioxide particles which, due to their extremely small size, are classified as nanoparticles. The concern is that these nanoparticles may be able to infiltrate the natural protective barriers of the human body and pass into the body.

The main food categories where E171 can be found include baked goods, soups, broths and sauces, although its use is also widespread in hundreds of everyday products such as toothpaste, cosmetics and sunscreen.

Titanium dioxide is also widely used in the pharmaceutical sector, including packaging, coatings of pills, formulations and pigments.

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EURATIV, 6 May 2021