Study: Additive found in Skittles and Starburst no longer considered safe

New science assessment suggests the FDA should review approval for titanium dioxide in food

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2021

WASHINGTON – An additive used in Skittles, Starburst, Hostess’ Donettes and thousands of other foods should no longer be considered safe for human consumption, according to a new study from the European Union’s top food safety agency.

A scientific panel created by the European Food Safety Authority found that titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered as safe when used as a food additive.” The panel, citing concerns about titanium dioxide’s genotoxicity, or its ability to damage DNA, based its conclusion on a review of hundreds of scientific studies.

EWG called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to quickly consider whether to ban titanium dioxide from use in food.

“A chemical that may damage our DNA should not be in Skittles, Starburst or cupcakes,” said EWG Nutritionist Aurora Meadows, a registered dietitian. Many popular candies, icings and cake mixes contain titanium dioxide for coloring.

EWG reviewed the listed ingredients of more than 100,000 products available on EWG’s Food Scores and found titanium dioxide in more than 3,000 ultraprocessed foods, including Swedish Fish, Jell-O, Little Debbie, Tasty Cakes and Sour Patch Kids. EWG’s analysis is based on a snapshot of product-specific ingredient data collected during the last eight months.

“This is yet another example of an additive currently being used in food that the FDA needs to take a second look at for safety,” Meadows said. She was referring to a previous EWG analysis of Food Scores data, which found an immune-harming food preservative in many kids’ favorites, like Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its and almost 1,250 other popular ultraprocessed foods.

“Too often, the FDA allows the food and chemical industry to determine which ingredients are safe for consumption,” Meadows said. “The Department of Agriculture reviews the safety of the ingredients allowed in organic foods every five years. If the USDA can do it, why can’t the FDA?”

Last year, EWG published “Food Additives State of the Science,” a guide that highlights additives known to increase the risk of cancer, harm the nervous system and disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. 

The FDA does not review the safety of food additives when new science reveals potential health risks. By contrast, the USDA reviews synthetic ingredients used in certified USDA Organic products every five years, and EU regulators have been reviewing the safety of food chemicals for more than a decade.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.

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