EU countries have backed the European Commission’s proposal to ban the use of the common food additive titanium dioxide after the European food safety agency deemed it to be unsafe, paving the way for a potential ban in 2022.
The standing committee on plant, animals, food and feed (scoPAFF) voted in favour of a proposal submitted by the Commission to ban the food additive from all applications in food products on Friday (8 October).
The move brings a potential outright ban on the substance, earmarked for 2022, one step closer.
The draft measure will now be sent to the European Parliament and Council for scrutiny for a period of three months.
Unless an objection is adopted by the end of the year by either the Council or the European Parliament, the text will enter into force in early 2022. This will then kick-off a six-month phasing out period after which a full ban will apply in food products
Welcoming the news, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed that the safety of European food and the health of EU consumers is “not negotiable”.
“Today, we act decisively with our member states, based on sound science, to remove a risk from a chemical used in food,” she said.
Titanium dioxide (known as E171) is a common food additive which is used as a white food colourant in a number of products such as chewing gum, pastries, food supplements, soups and broths. 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.
In May this year, the EU food safety authority (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.
The conclusion contradicted an earlier conclusion and set works in motion for an EU-wide ban of the substance after a decade of debate.
Reacting to the vote, Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer at the consumer group BEUC, called this a “further nail in the coffin” of titanium dioxide as a food additive.
“Food makers roughly have until mid-2022 to remove E171 from their products,” she said, adding that the colourant has already largely disappeared from food products’ ingredient lists in many EU countries, but is still found in some chewing-gums, confectionery and cake decoration products.
“Titanium dioxide has no place any longer in our food,” she stressed.
Meanwhile, consumer advocacy group SAFE said the news would be welcomed by NGOs and consumers alike.
“An EU-wide ban of this potentially harmful substance has been called for at EU level for
years by NGOs and MEPs,” the group pointed out in an online statement.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]