EU Member States approved the European Commission’s proposal to ban E171 as a food additive following a meeting of the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs (CPVADAAA) last week.
The Committee's vote gives the European Council and Parliament the green light to endorse this decision in the coming 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 sold in the bloc.
Commenting on the decision, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides who is in charge of Health and Food Safety, said: “The safety of our food and the health of our 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”.
E171 genotoxicity concerns cannot be ruled out
Titanium Dioxide is currently used as a colorant in a number of products such as chewing gum, pastries, food supplements, soups and broths.
The contentious ingredient has been linked to negative health consequences, including damage to the intestinal flora and – when ingested in the form of very small nanoparticles – the development of cancer.
The Member States’ decision to ban E171 follows an updated safety assessment from EFSA, which concluded ‘titanium dioxide can no longer be considered safe as a food additive’ in May. At the time, the food safety experts said they could not rule out genotoxicity concerns.
“We could not exclude genotoxicity concerns after consumption of titanium dioxide particles. After oral ingestion, the absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low, however they can accumulate in the body,” EFSA Food Additives and Flavourings Panel Chair Prof Maged Younes explained.
Genotoxicity refers to the ability of a chemical substance to damage DNA. Genotoxicity may lead to carcinogenic effects, making it ‘essential’ to assess the potential genotoxic effect of a substance to determine its safety.
“Although the evidence for general toxic effects was not conclusive, on the basis of the new data and strengthened methods we could not rule out a concern for genotoxicity and consequently we could not establish a safe level for daily intake of the food additive,” Prof Matthew Wright, both a member of the FAF Panel and chair of EFSA’s working group on E 171, said.
‘An important victory for our health’
A coalition of nine European NGOs - including Foodwatch, BEUC and WECF – have been campaigning to have titanium dioxide prohibited across Europe following the implementation of a ban in France in 2020.
French NGOs welcomed the new pan-EU. "At last,” exclaimed Karine Jacquemart, director of Foodwatch France. “The standoff was long, too long… but it is an important victory for our health.”
Foodwatch highlighted the length of time it has taken to secure the ban, which comes five years after the French Food Safety Agency (ANSES) warned about the risks of E171 consumption.
Agir pour l'Environnement also welcomed the news, but noted further action is still needed to stop the consumption of titanium dioxide completely within Europe. "Tomorrow we will have to fight for it to be extended to all products, including medicines, but this European ban on food is an important step forward," added Mathias Chaplain of Agir pour l'Environnement.
Foodwatch’s Jacquemart also suggested the E171 ban was still the beginning of the journey. "This good news should encourage France to continue and accelerate the momentum it initiated with titanium dioxide. Three hundred and thirty-eight additives are currently authorized in food in Europe; it is too much, with the risk of cocktail effects impossible to assess.
“We must eliminate as a priority those which are controversial because they present health risks. We shouldn't have to fight for years to get them banned one after another. Putting public health first is a right and should be obvious. Unfortunately, there is still work to do,” Jacquemart concluded.
In particular, Foodwatch, alongside other NGOs, is campaigning to ban nitrates in food. A petition backed by the NGO alongside Yuka and the League Against Cancer has attracted the signature of more than 360,000 European citizens. A ban on nitrates will be the subject of debate during discussions on the proposed law in 2022, Foodwatch said.