Titanium dioxide is a permitted substance as a food additive (E171) in foodstuffs, mainly confectionery, bakery products and sauces. It is also used in cosmetics, paints and medicines. But while the French government has decided to ban it since January 1, 2020 in food products only, it is still indeed included in the list of food additives. authorized at European level. A “situation that is simply incomprehensible and unjustifiable”, as explained by the association UFC-Que Choisir on this subject. This is why the opinion on the issue from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was eagerly awaited.
The Agency has just decided and estimates that it “can no longer be considered as sure as a food additive. This opinion is an “update” that amends the results of EFSA’s previous assessment in 2016, which highlighted the need for further research to address data gaps. One of its senior officials, Prof. Maged Younes, indicates that “a decisive element in reaching this conclusion was that we could not rule out genotoxicity issues that could occur from the consumption of titanium dioxide particles. This term refers to the ability of a chemical to damage DNA, the genetic material of cells.
“We have not been able to establish a safe level for the daily intake”
However, the genotoxicity of a substance can cause carcinogenic effects, it is crucial to assess the potential genotoxic effect of a substance before deciding on its safety. Here, the risk relates to the fact that after oral ingestion, the titanium dioxide particles can accumulate in the body ”. Prof Matthew Wright, Chair of EFSA’s E171 Working Group, adds: “Although the evidence for systemic toxic effects has not been entirely conclusive, based on the new data and enhanced methods used, we could not exclude a genotoxicity problem and we have not been able to establish a safe level for the daily intake of this food additive. ”
EFSA points out that this assessment was carried out taking into account several thousand studies made available since the previous assessment dating from 2016, “including new scientific evidence and data on nanoparticles. Its scientific experts have also used data developed in 2018 by EFSA’s scientific committee on nanotechnologies, applying them to the safety assessment of food additives. This made it possible to establish that “the titanium dioxide E171 contains no more than 50% of particles of nanometric size (i.e. less than 100 nanometers) to which consumers could be exposed. ”
When will there be a clear opinion on drugs and cosmetics?
The agency, whose opinion serves only to guide the decision of the European Commission and the Member States, specifies, however, that its assessment relates to the risks of TiO2 as as a food additive, and not those related to other uses. What regrets the UFC-Que Choisir in a note from its president Alain Bazot. The latter deplores the fact that “neither the French ANSES nor the EFSA have looked into the presence of titanium dioxide in more than 4,000 drugs and nearly 7,000 cosmetic products likely to be ingested, such as toothpastes, lip balms and lipsticks, mouthwashes, including their versions intended for children. ”
However, the body, which feared that EFSA would question the ban in force in France, welcomes this “good news in terms of additives”. “As for consumers from other European countries, their safety now depends on the European Commission, which I call on to ban this dye without delay throughout the territory of the Union. », Adds Alain Bazot. For its part, the government of Luxembourg immediately let it be known that it intends to intervene with the Commission “to proceed urgently with an adaptation of European legislation with a view to the ban on titanium dioxide as a food additive at European level. ”