Unlabelled nanomaterials found in French food samples

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles were found in 17 of the 19 samples presented to industry stakeholders, including in confectionery, sauces and cake decorations. © iStock/halfpoint
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles were found in 17 of the 19 samples presented to industry stakeholders, including in confectionery, sauces and cake decorations. © iStock/halfpoint

Related tags: Titanium dioxide, European union

Unlabelled titanium dioxide nanomaterials have been found in food samples tested by the French government.

French government agency for competition, consumption and fraud (DGCCF) took 114 consumer good samples from across France and tested them for the presence of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. 

Presenting the findings last week (10 November) at a technical workshop held as part of France’s ongoing ‘State of the Industry’ initiative (États Généraux de l'alimentation), the DGCCF said 17 of the 19 samples contained nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles were found in tested foods including confectionery, sauces, spices and cake toppings and decorations but this was not mentioned on the packaging, as is required under the EU's regulation on Food Information to Consumers (FIC).

A spokesperson for the DGCCRF said: "[We] will meet  the companies’ representatives in a few days to discuss these results, and decide if further action will be taken [to] ensure the respect of the nanoparticles regulation. The complete results of these investigations will be announced at the end of this year, and will be transmitted to the European authorities."

However, campaigns coordinator at APE Magali Ringoot called the lack of government action a form of “legal procrastination”​ that was “scandalous​” given that FIC regulation has been in force since 2014.

Titanium dioxide (E 172) is used as a white food colouring by manufacturers, mainly in confectionery and bakery products.

According to a 2012 study.​ titanium dioxide is one of the five most commonly used engineered nanomaterials in daily consumer products, including food. 

An ongoing investigation

Last year, the European Food Safety Authority okayed titanium dioxide in an opinion published ​, saying current levels of dietary exposure do not pose any concern to consumers’ health, however its panel of experts was unable to set an acceptable daily limit (ADI) for the additive due to data limitations.

The French government therefore asked its national food safety authority ANSES to evaluate the risks to consumers, while the DGCCRF carried out analytical checks to test for nanoparticles in food and consumer products.

A joint statement issued this summer (31 August) by the minister for food and agriculture, Stéphane Travert, minister for the environment Nicolas Hulot and minister for health, Agnès Buzyn said the collected data would allow France to fill these data gaps regarding the substance’s re-evaluation at an EU level and, where appropriate, to clarify the applicable regulations.

ANSES scientists concluded that​ while they could not challenge EFSA’s approval “at this time​”, the results highlighted previously unknown and potentially carcinogenic effects.

They therefore called on manufacturers to find replacements where possible.

A 2017 IFOP poll commissioned by APE questioned over 1000 French adults about nanoparticles, finding that 86% do not feel adequately informed about the uses and risks of nanomaterials in food while 67% say they are worried about the presence in food.

Related topics: Policy

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