Cancer-linked ingredient titanium dioxide to be cut by French sweet makers

The French confectionery industry has promised to phase out titanium dioxide, a ‘potentially’ carcinogenic additive found in sweets and other products. The news follows calls from French authorities and scientists to recognise the toxicity of the substance.

It was only a month ago that the French government revealed its intention to ban titanium dioxide from food after studies showed that it can cause cancer.

Now, the association of confectionery manufacturers has announced that they are ready to remove the substance, which serves no nutritional purpose, from all their sweets if the government will require so.

The association told French media that 90% of its members have already stopped adding titanium dioxide to their products, some for several years.

Titanium dioxide adds brightness and whiteness to sweets, pastries and paints alike. It is also used in sunscreens due to its ability to block the absorption of the sun’s ultraviolet light.

The decision to ban the substance came after French researchers found it caused precancerous lesions in 40 per cent of rats ingesting the chemical during tests. These lesions can develop into more dangerous forms of cancer, they said.

But France is not alone in casting doubts over the safety of titanium dioxide. Already in 2010, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) classified it as “possibly carcinogenic” after studies showed increased lung cancer in rats that inhaled the substance.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has also recently recommended the classification of titanium dioxide as a potentially carcinogenic if inhaled, which would require manufacturers to add EU-wide warning labels to all products containing the substance.

NGOs argue that all inhalable products should display a warning label, including for example sunscreen sprays, whose content can be breathed in easily.

EU countries started discussing the introduction of labels this month amid claims of unprecedented lobbying from the chemical industry.

In a confidential letter obtained by POLITICO, chemical industry lobbyists urged EU governments not to take up ECHA’s recommendations.

The letter also reveals the industry has already spent €14m on a “science programme” to counter potential labelling and defend commercial interests.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) condemned the industry’s effortsto undermine the evidence-based process of decision making that is supposed to protect people and the environment.”

Natacha Cingotti, a chemicals expert at Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), told META that the increasing body of scientific evidence about the harmful impacts of titanium dioxide is at basis of ECHA’s proposal to classify it as a suspected carcinogen.

“This proposal should be taken up by EU countries in order to ensure that the classification process remains based on the intrinsic properties of the substance rather than on economic considerations that have no place in this discussion.”