- Five consumer advocacy groups are petitioning the FDA to rescind its approval of titanium dioxide as a color additive in foods, arguing that it can build up in the body and cause harm to the immune system and brain. The petition was filed by the Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health.
- Titanium dioxide, which is commonly used to make colors appear brighter, was first approved by the FDA for use in food in 1966. However, the EWG said in a statement about the petition that current law does not require the FDA to reassess the safety of chemicals it has previously approved. EWG submitted the petition to force a review, which it hopes will be done within 180 days.
- Titanium dioxide is a controversial synthetic colorant. It was banned as a food additive last year by the European Commission. It also has led to lawsuits against Mars, which uses the dye in Skittles.
Titanium dioxide, which has been controversial for years, is getting another degree of scrutiny with this petition. The white colorant is in more than 1,800 foods ranging from half and half to chicken and chips, according to an EWG analysis.
Many of these foods are targeted at children. Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president of government affairs, said in a release that a chemical that has the potential to build up in the body and do harm should not be in food and drink marketed to this age group.
The petition states titanium dioxide’s safety was last reviewed by the FDA in 1973. It claims the FDA deemed the chemical safe because at the time, the colorant was thought not to be absorbed by the body. Subsequent research with new technologies has shown nanoparticles of the chemical can be absorbed by the digestive system.
The European Food Safety Authority updated its guidance on potential risks caused by nanoparticles in food additives in 2018. It used that to re-evaluate titanium dioxide, which led to the government banning it.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, it is unclear whether the colorant can do permanent damage to people who eat it. The substance has been classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
This is the second recent petition to try to force the FDA to withdraw approval for a synthetic food dye that is banned in other places or for other uses.
Last October, several consumer groups petitioned the FDA to withdraw approval for FD&C Red No. 3 in food, supplements and drugs. Scientific studies have linked the red dye to cancer in animals, and the FDA banned its use in cosmetics and externally applied drugs in 1990.
According to Regulations.gov, 34,778 comments have been posted to the Red No. 3 docket, which closed earlier this month. No action has been taken on the petition yet.